Oct. 6, 2010
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Fighting Illini swimming and diving team will host Nebraska this weekend in its home and season opener on Saturday, Oct. 9 at 11 a.m. at the ARC pool. It will be the fourth consecutive year the Illini have opened their season against the Cornhuskers. Admission is free and the first 200 fans will receive a free Big Ten Network t-shirt.
Illinois leads the all-time series, 2-1, and is coming off a 165-135 victory in last year's contest. Highlighting the meet was sophomore Lauren Wismer's school record-breaking dive (290.47) on the one-meter board, while in the pool, the Illini swept both the 400 medley relay and 200 free relay events.
"Last year it was pretty back and forth throughout the entire meet, so I expect it to be much of the same," head coach Sue Novitsky said. "It's fun to be able to swim against a challenging opponent so early in the season and get a chance to see where you stack up, especially with them coming into the Big Ten next year. I expect it to be a pretty competitive meet all the way through. We tend to match up pretty well."
With a solid group of returning athletes and the addition of 10 talented newcomers, the Fighting Illini swimming and diving team will look to improve on last year's 7-6 season.
"Our goals are to come together as a team and compete well at every meet," Novitsky said. "We hope to carry that intensity from day to day and build upon that focus so that we can maintain that focus and concentration when we get to our championship meets."
"I think it's their time," Novitsky said. "They've sort of been overshadowed a little bit, so now it's their time to really come to the forefront. Our seniors have every chance and the potential to contribute to the team in our meets and at the Big Ten Championships and I expect nothing less from them."
Although the squad will be a young team, the Illini have a group of talented and experienced veterans who will guide their younger teammates.
"Our returning athletes are familiar with what our typical training process is and what our expectations are as coaches," Novitsky explained. "They are good competitors. They know that they can swim well and compete well throughout the season."
The freshmen also will look to contribute and are expected to make an impact in their debut season.
"We want the freshmen to be able to step right in and compete," Novitsky said. "If we look at our depth chart, a lot of our younger athletes and a lot of our newcomers are some of the faster people in the individual events. They haven't competed at the collegiate level, but they've competed in many meets in the past. It's still the same thing, just wearing some different team colors."
Seniors Kasten and Mason, junior Kristen Manias and sophomores Kimberly Kalenda and Erin Lamb, will lead the sprint freestylers. Last season, Manias became the sixth-fastest Illini in the 50 free (23.44) and 100 free (50.99), while Lamb became the 10th-fastest Illini in the 50 free (23.65). Talented newcomers Andrea Baumgartner, Illinois state champion Elizabeth Bell (50 free) and Alaska state champion Anne Goering (100 free and 200 free) will also be key factors in the sprint-free events.
The Illini will rely on Mason, Lamb and junior Kelly Kunkel to step up as leaders in the middle-distance freestyle. Freshmen Courtney Pope, Cara Chuang and Missouri state champion Jessica Holz (100 free and 400 free relay) also will look to contribute throughout the season.
Junior Torrey Loper, who ranks ninth in the 1650 free (16:58.04) and 10th in the 1000 free (10:14.27) on the Illini all-time fastest individuals list, will lead a young group of distance freestylers. Newcomers Pope, Emily Wilkinson and Alyssa Toland will also see action.
Backstroke and Breaststroke
Loper and sophomore Sarah Coady, who ranks 10th in the 200 back (2:04.14), will be back to compete in the backstroke, along with newcomers Chuang and Holz. Kasten, who ranks ninth in the 100 breaststroke (1:05.09) on the Illini all-time fastest individuals list, will look to be a solid competitor in the breaststroke events, along with junior April McKee, who ranks 10th in the 200 breast (2:21.33). Joining them will be Miller, junior Rachel Japp Joyce, redshirt freshman Erica Lynn and freshman Marin Thompson.
The Illini will have a wealth of talent in the fly events, with returners Miller, juniors Caitlin Conroy, Brittany McGowan, Manias and McKee and sophomores Kathleen Knight, Alyssa Petruzzello and Erin Rodriguez. Last season in the 100 fly, McGowan became the sixth-fastest Illini in the event (56.17), while Petruzzello checked in at 10th (56.45). Newcomers Bell, whose time in the 100 fly is faster than the current Illinois record (55.27), Wilkinson, Thompson and Emma Williams also will look to make an impact.
Individual Medley and Relays
The Illini will have a mix of experience in the individual medley, with returners Miller, McKee, Rodriguez and junior Michelle Mehnert, along with newcomers Toland, Thompson, Wilkinson, Williams and Chuang. Last year, Rodriguez climbed the ranks as the sixth-fastest Illini in the 200 IM (2:04.90) and the fifth-fastest Illini in the 400 IM (4:24.76). Seasoned veterans are back for the relays as well including Mason, Lamb, Manias, McGowan and Kasten.
"We want to have multiple people qualify for zones and try to surpass our records set last year," Illini diving coach Chris Waters said.
Last season, Fisher placed 16th in the one-meter dive at the Big Ten Championships, becoming the first Illini diver to earn points in the conference championship in more than 10 years.
Sophomore Lauren Wismer, who last season was Illinois' first Big Ten Diver of the Week in 10 years, set school records on both the one-meter (290.47) and three-meter (304.88) boards. Though she is currently dealing with an injury, Wismer looks to be back in action later this season.
Joining Fisher, Adams and Wismer are sophomores Keri Eberhardt and Darragh McDermott and junior Alyssa Harmon, who joined the squad last season following a stint with the Illini women's gymnastics team. With an abundance of talent returning, the Illini will not have any new divers for the 2010-11 season.
"It all comes down to learning how to compete," Waters said. "It's a little different moving from high school to college, and four of our six divers were doing that last year. It's learning how to handle the environment and learning how to challenge yourself at practice so that when you get to a meet, you feel ready, confident and comfortable."