Kelly Handel helps
lead her teammates
into the new year.
Oct. 11, 1999
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Looking to close the 20th century in strong fashion, Head Coach Jim Lutz is excited about the talent-laden Fighting Illini for the 1999-2000 season.
Entering his seventh year for the Orange and Blue, the winningest coach in Illinois swimming and diving history welcomes a team with a quality blend of youth and experience, who will attempt to improve on an overall record of 9-6 and a Big Ten Conference mark of 5-4 last season. Seniors Marcie Black, Traci Bollinger, Kelly Handel, Natasha Messmer, Betsy Nagel and Emily Wang will be looked upon to grab the reigns of leadership and their assignment will be made easier by the talented cast of underclassmen. With the guidance of captains Black, Handel, Darcy Adler and Jessica Ohr, the veteran leadership and proven talent of Illinois are poised to make a run to the top of the Big Ten Conference.
"I feel confident that we can be better than last year," said Lutz. "The stable forces on this team are the strong senior and junior classes, and they are prepared to lead our team into the challanges of the season."
Illustrating the strength of the program, the Fighting Illini return 11 recordholders to the lineup. In addition to holding school history, the Illinois roster also sports a pair of NCAA Championship and 2000 United States Olympic Trials qualifiers in juniors Adler and Anna Christiansen. Adler broke her school mark in the 100 breast last year and Christiansen looks to return to the NCAA Championships after qualifying as a freshman in the 400 IM.
The strength of the squad continues with record-breakers Bollinger, Wang and Messmer. Comprising parts of three school relay records, Bollinger and Wang are staples to the Illini free and medley relay teams. Messmer will try to pick up where she left off at last year's Big Ten Championships, where she established a new UI 200 fly mark with a time of 2:02.00.
Starting their collegiate career with a flourish, Jen Peters and Jessica Aveyard are out to prove there is no sophomore jinx. Peters dusted off the oldest record at Illinois, performing a 16:46.06 mile. Aveyard, bestowed the school's Most Improved Swimmer, placed second in the 200 back at the United States Junior National Championships over the summer.
Coming into its own, the diving program continues a steady level of improvement under the direction of third-year coach Camie Kornely. The stalwart for Illinois diving, Ohr will once again lead this rising core of two sophomores and three freshmen. Ohr, a junior, will get some help from sophomore Erin Prasse and freshman Jessica Mowrer. In her freshman campaign, Prasse collected a pair of first-place finishes in 1-meter diving. Mowrer begins her Illinois career with impressive high school credentials. Holding every diving record at Stevenson High School, Mowrer went undefeated her senior year en route to a state title.
"We have a solid diving core," Lutz said. "This group has the chance to put us on top in meets."
Mowrer is among a freshmen class which could be formidable for the Fighting Illini for years to come. A two-time Junior National champion, Alison Czmarko will provide depth in the back and individual medley events. Adding to already strong relay teams, Sara O'Fallon was a member of the state record 200 medley team at Naperville North. Jennifer Ochab, a Junior National Champion in the 100 and 200 back, will try to join the company of former Illini standout Erin Didde after earning All-American honors in the100 back.
"I am very optimistic about this class because they are tremendously talented and will make an immediate impact," Lutz said. "Looking at their long term potential, we have future Big Ten Champions and NCAA qualifiers in this group."
The Fighting Illini will need immediate impact from their freshmen class with the challenging schedule Lutz has slated. Reinforcing his philosophy of competing against the very best during the regular season as to properly prepare for the rigors of the Big Ten and NCAA Championships, Lutz pits his Illini squad against the league's best teams as well as the top programs in the country . Illinois begins the season with its annual Orange and Blue Meet Oct. 16, which is one of five home contests. UI entertains Oakland Oct. 29 and Rice Oct. 30. On. Nov. 5-7, Illinois hosts the ever-popular Dual Meet Extravaganza, featuring Kansas, Missouri, North Texas, Penn State and Southern Illinois. The Illini closes their IMPE Pool portion of the schedule with the Illinois Invite Dec. 3-4.
Following Christmas Training in Orlando, Fla., the Fighting Illini battle Florida Jan. 7 and Notre Dame Jan. 22 on the road. Illinois winds down the schedule with a Big Ten Quad meet Jan. 28-29 in Minneapolis, Minn., before heading into the conference championships Feb. 17-19 in Indianapolis, Ind.
Successful veterans and promising newcomers give Lutz reasons to be excited about the prospects of the 1999-2000 season. Establishing a high mark for excellence over the last four years, this version of the Illinois swimming and diving program will put the finishing touches on this century by reaching a new level of success.