Men's Swimming and Diving: Irish struggle after first day, hope to catch up
By: SHEILA EGTS
The day went according to plan for the blue and gold at the Big East Championships on Thursday. But it was the wrong team of blue and gold.
The Pittsburgh Panthers were well on their way to defending their Big East Championship title with a first-day score of 250 points.
Disappointing sixth and eighth place finishes in key relay events left the Irish questioning their ability to turn the meet around and reclaim the second-place finish they held in 1999 and 2000.
"Both of our relays were slower than we had hoped they would be tonight," said Irish head coach Tim Welsh. "Can we still be second? Who knows?"
According to Welsh prior to the meet, the team was relying on major point contributions from the senior Jonathan Pierce in the distance events. Pierce started off on the right foot with a preliminary swim in the 500-yard freestyle. But his final time was nearly four seconds slower, leaving Pierce short of his expectations with a fifth-place finish.
"I know I personally did not swim as well as I wanted to tonight. I think I get caught up too much in how fast I need to go or who I need to beat," said Pierce, who swims again Saturday in the 1,650-yard freestyle. "I had a bad race but I just need to look past it and move on to my next races."
Fellow senior Mike Koss is still optimistic about Pierce contributing team points and getting the NCAA invitation he has been working for all season.
"It's tough for Jonathan especially as a senior. I thought he would do a little better, but this is his weakest event," Koss said. "His 400 IM and his mile should be a lot stronger."
With the addition of two competitive freshmen divers from Miami, Andy Maggio only managed to place sixth in the 3-meter diving, an event that he took second in last year.
"Four of the guys here were really Olympic caliber divers," he said. "I was shooting for fifth place and one of the guys beat me out at the end, but I still feel good about the 3-meter finish. I didn't dive my best but I placed around where I should have."
But Maggio is focusing on his stronger event in the 1-meter diving to compensate for some of the points he lost Thursday.
As a whole, the Irish have their work cut out for them if they hope to catch up with Rutgers, who is currently is second place. According to Welsh, the team has an even set of entries for the rest of the meet with four or five swimmers qualified in the majority of the events.
"This has traditionally been a tough day. What I think we need to do is use this to build the momentum and really try to get focused for our next two days," said Koss, who competes in the 100-yard backstroke today. "But if you look at our scoring and our place compared to last year, we are way ahead of where we were last year. What I think we need to do is use this to build the momentum and really try to get focused for our next two days."
All Sports Stories for Friday, February 22, 2002