Swimming team pools its might for Notre Dame Invitational

The Ute swimming and diving team is set to compete in the Notre Dame Invitational in South Bend, Ind., with Thursday’s action marking the start of the three-day event.

As in the Mountain West Conference and NCAA Championships, the invitational involves preliminary heats in the mornings and finals for 24 events in the evenings.

Head coach Mike Litzinger said he considers the meet a good opportunity to get accustomed to tournament settings.

“The prelims simulate a championship-style meet,” Litzinger said. “We’re kind of putting ourselves through the ringer and hopefully preparing for the MWC Championships in February and the NCAAs in March.”

The women’s team (3-1) will be looking to keep its positive momentum going after winning 11 of 13 events against last year’s MWC champions-UNLV-just more than two weeks ago.

“We have a really experienced group of seniors,” Litzinger said. “With this group, our sights are set on the championships.”

A young men’s team is 2-1 after falling to the Rebels in its first conference matchup of the season. Until they develop, the Utes will rely on seniors Jonathan Larsen and Sterling Richards to lead the charge.

“This is a rebuilding year,” Litzinger said. “We’re really young on the men’s side, and we’re looking for opportunities to season ourselves.”

While the men’s team continues to grow, more help is on the way for the U’s women’s squad, which figures to be slightly depleted after the impending departure of seven seniors.

Last week, the Utes announced the signings of two junior college transfers and one high school senior for next season’s women’s team.

Portland’s Beth Gunderson, the 2005 Mt. Hood Conference Female Athlete of the Year, will swim backstroke and individual medley at the U.

Gunderson qualified for the U.S. Nationals in 2005 and finished 12th at the Summer U.S. Junior Nationals in the 200 back this year.

“We’re very fortunate Beth chose to come here,” Litzinger said. “She’s an exceptional athlete. (Her decision) was between us and LSU, and we feel very lucky that she chose Utah and the Mountain West Conference.”

Melissa Helmers and Kelly McIntyre join the Utes after helping Indian River Community College to its 27th NJCAA championship last season.

“Indian River is pretty much the best JUCO in swimming,” explained Litzinger. “It’s nice to get students who are adjusted to the academic scene and are already equipped with championship experience.”

Helmers, who will swim distance freestyle and individual medley, is a three-time U.S. National qualifier in the 400- and 800-meter free relays. McIntyre, from Park City, was the National Junior College Champion in the 200 butterfly and 100 back.

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