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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Swim and dive squads contend at national level during shortened season

Although the swim and dive season was cut short before the NCAA Championships due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the men’s and women’s teams both had a very successful year and performed well at the ACC Championships.

Head coach Mike Litzinger said he was pleased that the men and women finished the season ranked No. 18 and No. 14, respectively. With these higher rankings, he has seen his teams emerge onto the national stage.

“We have had our sights set on national finishes instead of just being competitive at the conference level,” Litzinger said.

Because of both teams’ focus on the national meet, it was tough for Litzinger to inform his team of the abrupt end to the season. Litzinger is confident, however, that being a Notre Dame student-athlete has prepared his swimmers for this adversity.

“Notre Dame equips you to handle situations like this,” he said. “That is the beauty of being a Notre Dame student-athlete. We’re going to keep you informed. We're going to communicate, and we’re going to be together.”

Despite the early end to the season, there was plenty of success for the Irish throughout the regular season.

One athlete who had a strong year was freshman Jack Hoagland, who received the ACC Men’s Freshman of the Year award after placing second in 400 IM and 1650 free, and third in the 500 free at the ACC Championships. Litzinger praised Hoagland’s dedication in practice and his ability to train at a high level with older teammates.

“Jack certainly raised his level up, and he felt that he could compete with anybody in the country, and he certainly can,” Litzinger said.

Junior Zach Yeadon also had a huge regular season for the Irish. Yeadon’s capped his performance on the year when he won the 500 yard free at the ACC Championships, breaking his own program record by two seconds with a time of 4:10.39 while also claiming first and another school record in the 1650 free. 

“Zach had been shooting for that title for a couple of years now, and it’s just validation on what a great athlete he is,” Litzinger said. “To be able to win a conference title is very special for anybody.”

Litzinger said the list of team leaders is long, but he specifically mentioned seniors Abbie Dolan and Lauren Heller, sophomores Luciana Thomas and Bayley Stewart and freshman Coleen Gillilan as crucial leaders throughout the year for the women.

On the men’s side, Litzinger mentioned seniors Jack Montesi and Aaron Schultz, juniors Zach Yeadon and Sadler McKeen, sophomores Zach Smith and Josh Bottelberghe and Hoagland as strong leaders.

Litzinger was especially impressed with Montesi’s progress over his career.

“He came in as a freshman and sat back and waited for his time and then set both school records in the backstroke the 100 and the 200 backstroke,” he said. “And he qualified for NCAAs and became an All-American in his senior year, so I am really proud of that effort.”

In addition, Litzinger said McKeen has recently become competitive at the national level.

“He’s really done a great job,” Litzinger said. “A middle-distance swimmer for us, [he] is another guy that flew under the radar in Alabama, and all of a sudden he’s knocking on the door of a school record and conference title next year, so we will see some big things from him.”

Recently it was announced that head diving coach Caiming Xie was stepping down after 25 years at the helm of the diving program.

Litzinger said he believes Xie has laid the groundwork for the future, and he expects his diving team to be just fine when competition resumes.

“He left the program in great shape, but it is a new chapter,” Litzinger said. “I think the athletes are excited for what is ahead.”

There is a strong recruiting class coming in on both sides next year, and Litzinger expects his team to compete on the national level once competition is back.

“The big goal is to continue to point towards national level performance,” Litzinger said. “The fact is that they are still young, so they are going to have to learn a lot about college swimming and diving. But the train is rolling, and we’re going to keep moving forward and we’re really thrilled about our future.”