Irish seniors finish on top with fourth title
By NOREEN GILLESPIE
Saint Mary's Editor
Winning may be a familiar feeling for the women's swimming and diving team, but it never gets old. Capturing their fourth consecutive Big East Championship virtually uncontested, the Irish managed to put a new spin on an old feeling.
Stepping onto the podium for the fourth time, the group was the first Notre Dame swimming team to win four consecutive conference championships. Winning the conference title with 829.50 points — more than 400 points ahead of second-place Rutgers — the team broke five Big East and Notre Dame records in the process and won 14 of 20 events.
It was the best showing of any Notre Dame swim team during his tenure, said head coach Bailey Weathers.
"This has probably been the best teams in terms of focus that I've seen," Weathers said. "When you work hard, you get rewards, and that's something really special to see. This is something that we're all going to remember for a long time."
Junior Carrie Nixon continued her championship performance, registering three individual wins, four relay wins, five Big East and Notre Dame records, three NCAA automatic qualifying times, and 2000 Big East Swimmer of the Year honors.
"This was an honor that I never imagined," Nixon said, who now has a list of 12 Big East titles. "I didn't really expect this. It hasn't really hit me yet."
Nixon opened her meet registering a win in the 50 -yard freestyle Thursday, and continued her championship campaign with a win in the 100-yard butterfly Friday. Noted as a sprinter, Nixon wrapped the weekend with a win in the 100 -yard freestyle, winning her heat by two seconds in 49.17, beating her preliminary time by .6 seconds.
Weathers also credited strong finishes from the senior class, who will graduate as the highest-scoring class in Notre Dame swimming history.
"The key ingredient was the senior class," said Weathers, who formed the group as his first recruiting class. "They wanted to win the first year, and they've been set on winning ever since."
"Because we've won before, we know how good it feels," said co-captain Elizabeth Barger. "The seniors on the team are really focused and can teach the group that it comes from a whole team effort."
Senior Shannon Suddarth racked up two breaststroke wins for the Irish, defending her conference titles in the 100 and 200 breaststroke. Senior Alison Newell claimed the 200-yard butterfly in 2 minutes, .71 seconds, followed by teammate Elizabeth Barger in second. Barger also finished second in the 100 butterfly, touching in 55.64. Laura Shepard placed fourth in the 50 freestyle, as well as racking up two Big East titles in relay events.
Other standouts included sophomore Kelly Hecking, who posted double wins in the 100- and 200-yard backstroke events. Junior Kristen Van Saun exhibited dominance in the distance events, ranking third in the 1,650-yard freestyle and a first place finish in the 500-yard freestyle.
But while the inevitable four-peat loomed in the distance throughout the meet, the team's focus remained on qualifying for NCAA Championships March 16-18 in Indianapolis, Ind. Stressing individual performance over placing, Weathers continually asserted that qualifying for NCAAs was key.
"These girls trained hard and swam fast, and that in itself is motivating," said Weathers. "This is also a very competitive group within itself, and when you're in a competitive group, you want to strive to be effective in that group."
Nixon is currently the only swimmer qualified with automatic times for the championship, which is the highest level of competition in collegiate swimming. Several other swimmers and four relays posted consideration times, however.
The team brought eight athletes to the meet in 1999.
"Having a lot of athletes last year will help us in terms of experience this year," Barger said.
The team will compete at home for the last time this season at the Shamrock Classic, where Weathers hopes the team will post more qualifying times. Weathers has forseen the team moving to the national level since the onset of the season, focusing on NCAAs during the dual meet season and especially now after Big East Championships are over.
But for now, they'll just celebrate.
"This is definitely overwhelming," Barger said. "It's hard to sit down at all when you're just thinking about celebrating."
All Sports Stories for Monday, February 21, 2000