Illini Face Northwestern Friday in Home Opener
Oct. 18, 2012
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Fighting Illini swimming and diving team will open its season this weekend, hosting Northwestern on Friday at 3 p.m. CT at the ARC Pool.
"I think that practices have gone well leading up to this meet," head coach Sue Novitsky said. "As a whole, the team has been very solid and consistent with its work ethic and the quality of work that we have been doing in the pool, weight room and on dry land. We continue to talk about what each individual and the collective group need to do for us to improve as a team. It may take just one person to start inspiring others, but everyone has a role that they must play."
Northwestern holds a 15-7 lead in the all-time series, including a 199-101 victory over the Illini in last year's opener. This meet marks the first contest of the season for the Wildcats, who ended 2011-12 with a 9-4 record and finished seventh in the Big Ten.
"At the start of the season, it is about getting into shape and building a great base," Novitsky said. "It is also a great time to work on some technical aspects that we may want athletes to change individually. Northwestern is a tough and competitive team. They had athletes at the NCAA Championships and had a strong showing at the conference meet. I expect them to come in here and be really competitive. I like that we get to start off the season with such strong competition."
With the Orange and Blue returning 29 athletes from last year's squad and adding nine talented newcomers, they will look to improve on their 5-7 record from last year.
"As a team, we continue to focus on competing better, getting faster and looking to improve on our finish at the Big Ten Championships," Novitsky said. "For us to do that, we need to continue to take advantage of our competitions and practices throughout the year and really test our limits. Learning to handle the pressure, stay calm and perform are things that the coaches will be looking at every day."
After graduating nine athletes last season, the Illini return eight seniors, including swimmers Sarah Coady, Kimberly Kalenda, Kathleen Knight, Erin Lamb, Alyssa Petruzzello and Erin Rodriguez and divers Keri Eberhardt and Darragh McDermott.
Jessica Holz, Erica Lynn and Courtney Pope, who collectively have eight spots on Illinois' all-time fastest individuals list, lead a strong junior class for the Illini. Cara Chuang, Anne Goering, Marin Thompson, Alyssa Toland, Emily Wilkinson and Emma Williams round out the experienced group of juniors.
"I expect leadership to come from the whole team," Novitsky said. "We continue to discuss the expectations in practice, in the classroom and as a team. From there, we encourage the athletes to take responsibility for helping to maintain those expectations. It can be someone different each day. I feel that if they are being held accountable by their teammates, that is when great changes take place."
With a year of collegiate experience under their belts, the group of 12 sophomores will look to make an even bigger impact this season.
"I see the sophomores gaining that maturity and being more well balanced to handle the different demands of school and athletics," Novitsky said. "Having a year of experience, they have a better idea of what to expect and can use that to their advantage to continue to improve. As with the freshmen, we will need them to step up and fill some holes that we may have in our line-up."
The incoming freshmen will look to adjust to swimming and diving on the collegiate level and attempt to contribute to the team's success in their debut season.
"We have a talented group of freshman this year," Novitsky said. "I expect them to be competing for spots in meets and on relays. Many of them are at the top or near the top in their events on our depth chart, so they have a chance to make a big impact this year. I am going to be calling on them to step up in different events as well to help out the team."
Seniors Kalenda and Lamb, juniors Goering and Pope and sophomores Alison Meng and Megan Marchuk will lead the Illini in the sprint freestyle. Last season, Pope improved her personal best times in the 50 free (23.52) and 100 free (50.75) to rank ninth and fifth, respectively, on Illinois' all-time fastest individuals list. Sophomores Alexa Chavez, Sabrinne Gibson and Mary Beth Howard and newcomer Kirsten Zborek will also look to contribute in the sprint-free events this season.
The Illini will rely on Lamb as well as junior Pope and sophomores Hailey Booth, Howard and Marchuk in the middle-distance freestyle events. Pope led the Illini in the 200 free (1:49.78) last season and currently ranks seventh on Illinois' all-time fastest individuals list.
Senior Knight, juniors Pope and Toland, and sophomores Booth and Kayla Dlugopolski will lead the group of distance freestylers. Last season, Dlugopolski was second on the team in the 1000 free (10:28.14) and 1650 free (17:11.73).
Backstroke and Breaststroke
Senior Coady, juniors Chuang, Holz and Wilkinson and sophomores Chavez and Meng will be back to compete in the backstroke along with sophomores Gibson and Howard. Last season, Meng became the fastest Illini to swim the 50 back (25.88) in school history. She also holds spots on Illinois' all-time fastest individuals list in the 100 back (55.71; third) and 200 back (2:02.71; eighth). Holz also moved up both lists, ranking fourth in the 100 back (56.39) and fifth in the 200 back (2:00.14). Joining them will be newcomers Stephanie Hein, Lori Lynn and Sloane McDermott. Returning swimmers Sarah Coady, Andrea DeAngelis, Erica Lynn and Marin Thompson will lead the Illini in the breaststroke. Erica Lynn is currently the fifth-fastest Illini to swim the 100 breast (1:04.03) and the fourth-fastest Illini to swim the 200 breast (2:16.50). Last season, Sarah Coady moved into 10th on the all-time fastest individuals list in the 200 breast (2:19.87). Joining them will be newcomers Jennifer Coady, Hein, Isabella Schamber and Hollie Smith.
The Illini return a veteran group of swimmers for the fly events with seniors Knight, Petruzzello and Rodriguez, juniors Thompson, Wilkinson and Williams and sophomores Booth and Meng. Last season in the 200 fly, Rodriguez became the all-time fastest Illini in the event (2:01.72), while Knight moved up to sixth (2:02.70). Meng moved up on the all-time fastest individuals list in the 50 fly (25.64; second) and 100 fly (56.02; sixth). Newcomers Lori Lynn and Sarah Sykstus will also look to contribute this season.
Individual Medley and Relays
The Illini will have a blend of experience in the individual medley, with upperclassmen Sarah Coady, Erica Lynn, Rodriguez, Thompson, Wilkinson and Williams joining sophomores Booth, Chavez, DeAngelis and Callan McDermott and freshman Jennifer Coady, Hein, Lori Lynn and Sloane McDermott. Chuang, Holz, Lamb, Meng and Pope all return to help solidify the relay teams for the Illini. Last season, Meng and Pope were part of the 200 medley relay team that swam the fastest time (1:41.94) in Illini history. Pope and Holz helped break the school record in the 400 free relay (3:21.83) as well.
"With Britni and Tessa leaving, Keri and Darragh now have their chance to shine, " diving coach Chris Waters said. "They are very aware that their roles on the team have changed, but they have each other. They're roommates, synchro partners and really complement each other very well. It's going to be nice to see them step out into the limelight a little this year."
Last season, Eberhardt moved into sixth and ninth place on the school's all-time top platform dives list with scores of 148.15 and 131.55, respectively. McDermott set career highs in both the one-meter dive (266.45) and three-meter dive (274.35) last season.
"Our goal is pretty simple and that is to qualify for Zones once again," Waters said. "We need to continue to stay healthy yet push them beyond their current comfort zones by increasing the difficulty of their dive lists."
"Emily and Erika are now over a year removed from their ACL surgeries and have certainly benefited from a summer of strong training," Waters said. "Erika is incredibly talented and a very hard worker. Despite the surgery, she has made incredible progress and should have a terrific year. Our lone freshman Jessica is very new to the sport, and the goal is to provide her a better base in our sport, so she can contribute to the team in the future."