Aug. 31, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - "Possibly the most challenging fall schedule in our history."
Now that's a way to start.
Following its highest-ever finish (28th) at the NCAA Championships in March - not to mention Frank Dyer's emergence as the first All-American swimmer in program history - head coach Tim Welsh has set the Irish up for another NCAA run with a championship-caliber 2012-13 schedule, the 28th-year Notre Dame veteran announced recently.
"We compete over the full spectrum of championship-style events with our schedule this season," said Welsh. "Expectations are very high for this year's team. We have a strong senior class with many good leaders."
Notre Dame begins the campaign at home on Oct. 12 with the 48th Dennis Stark Relays, named after the longtime Irish coach who manned the program from 1958-85. Then comes a formidable stretch of five consecutive dual meets, beginning with Oakland and Michigan State on the road on back-to-back days (Oct. 26-27).
"Those two are always tough to handle when they're at home," remarked Welsh.
Things don't get much easier when the Irish return to their own home, as perennial NCAA participant Purdue (Nov. 2) and BIG EAST nemeses Pittsburgh (Nov. 9) and Louisville (Nov. 10) make their way to Rolfs Aquatic Center for dual meets.
"Pittsburgh and Louisville are our fiercest BIG EAST rivals," said Welsh. "It's also Pitt's last year in the BIG EAST [before moving to the ACC], so we want to have a good showing against them."
Put those five meets together, and the following is what the Irish face over a two-week period:
Oakland: five-time Division II champion that finished in the top three at NCAAs in 15 of 16 years at the DII level under current head coach Pete Hovland. Since moving to Division I, the school has scored points five times at the NCAA Championships (2003, '06-'09), including a 25th-place finish in 2006.
Michigan State: scored at NCAAs in 2012 for the first time in 16 years. The swimmer responsible for those points, Jacob Jarzen, returns for his senior year in 2012-13.
Purdue: has defeated the Irish in 26 of 29 all-time dual meets, including an 18-meet win streak that was snapped in 2006. The Boilermakers have scored at NCAAs every year since 1996 and have had an All-American swimmer or diver in 13 consecutive seasons.
Pittsburgh: has squared off against ND in a dual meet every year since 2003-04, with the Fighting Irish taking each of the last eight matchups. Still, the Panthers have scored at 19 NCAA Championship meets all-time, including six meets since 2000.
Louisville: is coming off its best-ever finish at the NCAAs, a ninth-place showing that earned the program the honor of 2012 Break-Out Program of the Year (by College Swimming Awards). Either ND or UofL has won the BIG EAST title in each of the past five seasons.
After the dual meets comes the focal meet of ND's fall season, the Hawkeye Invitational hosted by the University of Iowa. The championship-style event will feature prelims at 10 a.m. and finals at 6 p.m. for three consecutive days from Nov. 30-Dec. 2.
Notre Dame then hits the winter break, which will include a training session in Puerto Rico. Among the activities in the Caribbean will be the Copa Coqui Swim Meet, an exhibition event for the Irish bunch.
"There's always a bit of Puerto Rico cultural flair at the Copa Coqui," said Welsh. "Our swimmers really enjoy it."
It's right back to action when ND returns from the hiatus, as the Irish are at Cleveland State for a dual meet on Jan. 18. Following that are back-to-back Friday-Saturday weekends (Jan. 25-26, Feb. 1-2), the first of which is Notre Dame's annual Shamrock Invitational. Harvard and Towson square off against the Irish in the event this season, with Harvard fresh off a 29th-place finish in the 2012 NCAA Championships. The Crimson have scored at 57 different NCAA Championship meets since 1938, sixth most in Division I behind Michigan (76), Ohio State (72), Stanford (69), Southern California (64) and Indiana (59).
"We've got a few fresh faces [Harvard, Towson] coming into town with the Shamrock this year," said Welsh. "Towson has never been here before, and it's been a long while for Harvard."
The second weekend will consist of the Northwestern Invitational, a three-session meet in Evanston, Ill., on Feb. 1-2.
"Those two weekends will be an extreme challenge for us," remarked Welsh. "But it will be great preparation for our championship meets at the end of the year."
The meet in Evanston will be the final prep for the 2013 BIG EAST Championships (Feb. 27-March 2), which return to Indianapolis and the Indiana University Natatorium (IUPUI campus) for the first time since 2009.
Irish divers then get set for the NCAA Zone C Diving meet held at Purdue from March 14-16, while the NCAA Championships take place from March 28-30, also at the IU Natatorium in Indy.
For Welsh, diving coach Caiming Xie and assistant Matt Tallman, a triumph in Notre Dame's first venture to Indianapolis will be a job well done, but a return trip in late March even sweeter.
"We're thrilled that the BIG EAST meet will be returning to Indianapolis," said Welsh. "But we'd love nothing more than to be coming back for the NCAA Championships in a few weeks. And we've got the team to do so."