Sue Novitsky enters her 14th year as the head coach of the Illini.
Oct. 16, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - After producing 27 changes to the all-time fastest individuals list last season, the Fighting Illini swimming and diving team - poised with a talented group of newcomers - will look to improve on last season's 2-8 record.
"The team is working hard towards a successful season," head coach Sue Novitsky said. "The athletes have been putting in the work in the weight room, on the deck and in the pool. As a team, we are looking to have a winning dual meet record overall and among Big Ten Conference teams."
The Illini will return a strong group of experienced swimmers and divers including six senior swimmers in Cara Chaung, Anne Goering, Jessica Holz, Erica Lynn, Courtney Pope and Alyssa Toland. Holz, Lynn and Pope collectively have eight spots on Illinois' all-time fastest individuals list.
"Our six seniors are fired up and ready to go out with a bang," Novitsky said. "There is tremendous talent and leadership among the senior class. Each one brings a different element to the team, and together, they are a very complete group."
Led by Alison Meng, the fastest in Illini history in the 50 and 100 backstroke, the juniors have a group of experienced swimmers ready to get in the pool. Hailey Booth, Andrea DeAngelis, Kayla Dlugopolski, Sabrinne Gibson, Mary Beth Howard, Megan Marchuk and Callan McDermott round out the competitive junior class.
With two-thirds of the team consisting of sophomores and juniors, progression will be key to a competitive season. The Illini have set a goal this season to see 65 lifetime best times or scores this season. The sophomore class saw a couple of swimmers move into the top-10 all-time at Illinois in Lori Lynn and Sarah Sykstus. Lynn cracked into the top-10 in the 200 back (6th), 100 fly (3rd) and 200 IM (7th), while Sykstus did the same in the 100 fly (4th), 200 fly (6th), as well as the 200 IM (5th). Jennifer Coady, Stephanie Hein, Sloane McDermott, Isabella Schamber, Hollie Smith and Kristen Zborek will also return for their second season in Orange and Blue
The newcomers to the team might be low in number, but each athlete is eager to represent the Orange and Blue and can make a strong contribution to the team this season. Sophomore transfer Rachel Burke comes to the Illini this season after a successful freshman season at the University of Connecticut. Freshmen swimmers Alison DeAngelis, Amelia Schilling and Gabbie Stecker will look to bring their talents to collegiate competition.
"I expect to see our freshmen come in and compete and contribute to the team success right away," Novitsky said. "We have some tremendous talent in the class and they are very competitive and have been tested in pressure situations prior to coming to Illinois."
This season's schedule shows a tough slate of competition with swimmers and divers having to compete in consecutive weeks multiple times.
"We have a pretty competitive Big Ten and out-of-conference schedule with meets multiple weeks in a row," Novitsky said. "We want to get experience having to step up day after day in preparation for the Big Ten Championships."
Seniors Goering and Pope and juniors and Meng and Marchuk will lead the Illini in the sprint freestyle. Last season, Pope led the team in both the 50 free (23.29) and 100 free (50.58), improving her personal-best times in both events. Pope currently holds the third-fastest time on the all-time individual list for both events, while Meng remains the 10th-fastest Illini in the 100 free (51.12).
The Illini will rely on Pope and Marchuk in the middle-distance freestyle events. Marchuk led the Illini in the 200 free (1:49.63), narrowly edging out Pope (1:49.65) at Big Tens. The two rank sixth and seventh, respectively, on Illinois' all-time fastest individuals list. Juniors Hailey Booth and Kayla Dlugopolski, as well as talented duo of freshman in Amelia Schilling and Gabbie Stecker, will look to make an impact throughout the season.
Senior Alyssa Toland and junior Dlugopolski will lead the group of distance freestylers. The two combined for nine of the ten fastest times in the 1000 freestyle last season. Booth will also look to contribute distance freestyle events.
Backstroke and Breaststroke
Senior Chuang, Holz, junior Meng and sophomore Lori Lynn will be back to compete in the backstroke. Meng returns after claiming the fastest times Illini history in both the 50 and 100 backstroke last season. Lynn will look to improve from her first-year success last season after becoming the sixth-fastest Illini to swim the 200 back with a time of 2:01.58. Returning swimmers Jennifer Coady, Andrea DeAngelis, Stephanie Hein, Erica Lynn, Isabella Schamber and Hollie Smith will lead the Illini in the breaststroke. Lynn enters her final season after a strong junior year in which she posted the fastest times on the team in the 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke. Lynn currently holds the sixth-fastest time (30.14) in the 50 breast and the fifth-fastest time (1:03.96) in the 100 breast. Newcomer Alison DeAngelis will join her sister in competing in breaststroke events.
The Illini return a strong veteran group of swimmers for the fly events with senior Erica Lynn, juniors Meng and Booth, and sophomores Lori Lynn and Sarah Sykstus. All five swimmers rank in the top 10 in Illinois' all-time fastest individuals list in a fly event. Last season in the 50 fly, Meng became the all-time fastest Illini in the event (25.23), while Erica Lynn moved up to ninth (26.04). In their first year of collegiate action, Lynn and Sykstus both claimed positions near the top of the all-time fastest individuals list, as Lynn swam the 100 fly in 55.38 seconds, good for third all-time, while Sykstus swam the 200 fly in 2:02.52, good for sixth all-time. Newcomer Stecker will look to try and match Lynn and Sykstus' first-year success this season.
Individual Medley and Relays
The Illini will also rely on Lori Lynn and Sykstus in the individual medley. Last season, Sykstus and Lynn climbed to fifth and seventh, respectively, on the all-time fastest individuals list in the 200 IM. Several swimmers are back for relays as well, including Holz, Erica Lynn, Meng, Marchuk and Pope. Last season the Illini posted the fastest 400 medley relay and 800 freestyle relay times in Illini history, while also posting times that rank in the top five in Illinois' all-time individual list in the 200 freestyle relay, 400 freestyle relay and 200 medley relay.
The Illini return one NCAA Zone C Diving Championship qualifier in Erika Murphy, who looks improve in difficulty level this season.
Joining Murphy is junior Emily Fung, sophomore Jessica Clifford and freshmen Olivia Kassouni. Last season, Fung and Murphy set career highs in both the one-meter and three-meter dives. Clifford will look to do the same this season in hopes for numerous appearances from the Illini in the Zone C Championships this season.
"Our goal is to have three divers, hopefully four, in the Zone C Championships this season," diving coach Chris Waters said. "We want to try and keep our numbers up at the Zone C Championships."
The Illini sent three divers to the event last and will look to continue that success this season.
Kassouni comes to Illini with two individual diving state championships and two team state championships. Kassouni comes to the Illini in good form.
"Olivia should be able to make a good splash this year," Waters said. "She has had a solid summer and has nice momentum coming into the school year."