Oct. 9, 2009
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a six-part series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2009-10 Notre Dame winter sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we take a look at arguably the most dominant program in any sport in BIG EAST Conference history, the 13-time defending league champion Fighting Irish women's swimming & diving team.
Winning a conference championship just once would be a noteworthy accomplishment for many programs throughout the nation. However, Notre Dame is not just another program.
With a BIG EAST Conference-record 13 consecutive league titles to its name, the Irish women's swimming and diving program not only seeks a 14th trophy but has its sights set on NCAA hardware.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Barnes, now in his second season with the program after earning four men's and women's national titles as an assistant at Auburn, has his program poised to make an impact on the national scene this season.
"It was a great first year in terms of the advancement of our program, while I've gotten to learn about Notre Dame and the student-athlete at Notre Dame," Barnes said. "This season's team is different than last year, as most teams are from year to year. But when you really evaluate the potential up and down the roster, we can make some great things happen.
"I've asked them if they are content with just winning the BIG EAST title and challenged them to shoot to achieve something bigger and better. We want to win the BIG EAST each year, but what are we going to do after that? The gates are wide open for these women with the commitment and drive they've displayed over the last year."
Returning All-American breaststroker Samantha Maxwell along with five school record holders and six World Championships Trials participants makes for a bountiful 2009-10 Irish roster.
Maxwell set the program's 100 and 200 Breast records at last year's NCAA Championships, a meet she traveled to with Amywren Miller and diver Natalie Stitt. Miller became the fastest swimmer in Irish history by breaking the 50 Free record at the BIG EAST Championships in 2009, while Stitt swept the 1- and 3-meter events at the league meet to earn the BIG EAST Most Outstanding Diver award.
The experience that those three alone bring to the table provides Barnes with a strong nucleus to build upon throughout the season. Furthermore, 10 school records were reset last season and each of those swimmers return in 2009-10.
The Irish have added more speed to the team to chase Miller, including freshman Lauren Scott, whom Barnes noted as a solid catch for the program. He also pointed out that the distance corps, paced by Lauren Sylvester and Zeina Shanata, is also much improved with the additions of Jaime Malandra and Gracie Fredlake.
"You may even see some of our swimmers race in events they may have never swum in throughout the season," Barnes said.
"If we are going to live like the BIG EAST is the most important meet of the year, then it is going to be," Barnes said. "I want us to live every day talking about the NCAA Championships and bigger and better things - like even national and international competitions. When we arrive at the BIG EAST Championships, then that will be the most important meet of the year. The rest of the time we are going to talk about the NCAA Championships.
"This team has All-American potential all over it. There are some exciting things in the water right now. To enter the collegiate season knowing that we have the tools in the shed, I think we can put more points on the board at the NCAAs. I think we could come out of this season with a pretty good showing in March."
But before March rolls along the Irish have a hefty schedule cut out for them. Five home meets and trips to a pair of Big Ten schools highlight the 2009-10 slate.
"The road to the NCAA Championships in March is a process, and all of these meets along with our training trip are part of that process," Barnes said. "We've put together a competitive schedule that should help us achieve several goals, including defending our BIG EAST Championship and sending even more participants to the NCAA Championships."
Notre Dame opens with the 26th edition of the Dennis Stark Relays (Oct. 9) at the Rolfs Aquatic Center and hosts Michigan one day later.
"The Dennis Stark Relays is a fun meet, but being able to honor Coach Starks for his contributions to the program is the best part of the day," Barnes said.
Trips to Purdue (Nov. 6) and Indiana's Hoosierland Invite (Nov. 20-22) round out the fall portion of the schedule.
The Irish will head to Hawaii for the program's annual winter training trip Dec. 28-Jan. 8 but will have little time to rest as Northwestern comes to town on Jan. 9.
Senior Day ceremonies are scheduled for the Jan. 16 home meet against Louisville, and the Shamrock Invitational (Jan. 29-30) is the final meet of the regular season.
The 2010 BIG EAST Conference Diving Championships will take place Feb. 12-14 in Pittsburgh, Pa., while the swimming events run from Feb. 17-20.
Purdue will host the NCAA Zone Diving Championships (March 12-13) and the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships (March 18-20).