Nov. 6, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Even in the face of defeat, it seems that there are always lessons to be learned, and goals that are still within reach, in competitive athletics.
In the case of the University of Notre Dame men's swimming and diving team, a dual meet loss last weekend at Purdue only tells half the story. Taking the final head-to-head result out of the equation, the Irish still accomplished what they set out to last Friday at the Boilermaker Aquatic Center.
"What we look at first and foremost is (time) improvement, and what we saw at Purdue was improvement," Notre Dame head coach Tim Welsh said. "If you look at the progression of times from the Dennis Stark Relays through the Purdue meet, what you see is the team is getting faster, and that is a good thing. We swam our first mile of the season, our first 400 IM, and they were both strong, significantly faster than where we were at this time last year."
Notre Dame swimmers combined to post nearly 40 individual top times of the season at Purdue, with senior two-time All-American Frank Dyer logging the fastest Irish 500 freestyle time (4:30.26) thus far, while junior James McEldrew swam the best 200 backstroke (1:50.54) and junior Zach Stephens the best 100 breaststroke time (55.45) of the year. Freshman Tom Anderson added the best Irish 400 IM swim (4:01.58) in the inaugural Notre Dame run in the event of 2013-14, while junior John Nappi did the same in the 1,650 freestyle (15:48.15).
Welsh felt that those accomplishments outweighed the meet's final overall score in helping the team in its progression toward faster times.
"I think there are some very positive developments along those lines, and in looking at overall improvement what we saw at Purdue was a great amount of improvement," he said. "Our divers also, in their first big test on the road, freshman Joe Coumos finished two points away from the lead on one board, six points from the lead on another board. That's solid, and it does not show on the scoreboard, but it was just a solid performance. We were really pleased with that."
The team might very well have felt pressure, in a secondary sense, to perform well at Purdue, a place where the Irish had not fared well in recent years. In fact, many Notre Dame swimmers who represent Irish Aquatics during the summer months have enjoyed a great deal of success out of season at the Boilermaker Aquatic Center. The weight of overcoming the difficulties at the venue may have been present, but Welsh steadfastly did not feel it factored into the final meet results.
"We have had a somewhat negative history of going down to Purdue, maybe falling on our face a bit," Welsh said. "Last weekend we didn't do that, and swam probably the best race we have getting off the bus at Purdue in recent memory. The score might not have been so good, but the performances certainly showed our overall improvement, and we like that."
Perhaps the single greatest key to the program's rise onto the NCAA Championship scene during Welsh's tenure has been the ability of the student-athletes to see the deeper meaning of Notre Dame's goals. Being able to block out what might have been a mark in the loss column to stay focused on the greater goal of faster times is something Welsh has seen in abundance from his current team.
"I think the guys are very focused on their own time improvements," Welsh said. "One of the things we promote all the time is to say that if you focus on doing the best you can do, and turn in the best performance you can, the scoreboard will take care of itself and you're going to like what it says. If you look at the scoreboard, the performance won't take care of itself.
"We're all about encouraging the guys to prepare for each individual race and give a great performance," he said. "Even though last weekend it was clear who had the lead during the meet, the guys were focused on how they were doing and improving. Along with that and the times that came out of Colorado Springs (Air Force), it's been two thumbs way up."
The Notre Dame upperclassmen, led by returning NCAA Championship qualifiers in Dyer, Stephens, John Williamson, Cameron Miller and Kevin Hughes, along with sophomore Bogac Ayhan, have all continued to improve at the pace they set last season. Along with the team's veteran leadership, the freshman class of Irish competitors has more than rose to the occasion during the first four meets of the year. Notre Dame freshmen have posted seven swims among the top five fastest times in given events thus far in the campaign, with Anderson pacing the 400 IM and Coumos being the most consistent diver, have helped give the Irish a huge boost early on.
"This freshman class is very mature as student-athletes," Welsh said. "We just came through first semester midterms and when you look at their grades collectively, they were solid, they are doing a really good job. Then you go down to the pool and look at their times and they too are solid. The class is making an immediate contribution to the program, and we do want to build on their contributions."
Notre Dame resumes its dual meet schedule Saturday at 11 a.m. (ET) in a tri-dual meet against new Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), and former BIG EAST, foes Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech at Trees Pool in Pittsburgh, Pa.
-- Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant