2024 Women’s Big Ten Fan Guide: Veteran Stars Have Ohio State Primed for 5th-Straight Title

by Spencer Penland 9

February 13th, 2024 Big Ten, College, News

BIG TEN CONFERENCE – WOMEN

  • Dates: Wednesday, February 21 – Saturday, February 24
  • Location: Morgan J. Burke Aquatic Center, West Lafayette, IN
  • Teams: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Wisconsin
  • Defending champions: Ohio State (4x)
  • Championship Central
  • Live Results
  • Live Video: B1G+

EVENT SCHEDULE

Wednesday (2/21)

  • 200 medley relay
  • 800 free relay

Thursday (2/22)

  • 200 IM
  • 50 freestyle
  • 500 freestyle
  • 400 medley relay

Friday (2/23)

  • 100 butterfly
  • 400 IM
  • 200 freestyle
  • 100 breaststroke
  • 100 backstroke
  • 200 freestyle relay

Saturday (2/24)

  • 200 backstroke
  • 100 freestyle
  • 200 breaststroke
  • 200 butterfly
  • 1650 freestyle (timed finals)
  • 400 freestyle relay

2023 FINAL TEAM SCORES

  1. Ohio State – 1425   
  2. Indiana – 1291.5
  3. Michigan – 1108   
  4. Wisconsin – 954
  5. Minnesota – 768.5  
  6. Northwestern – 710
  7. Purdue – 492.5   
  8. Penn State – 475
  9. Rutgers – 467.5  
  10. Nebraska – 437
  11. Illinois – 215  
  12. Iowa – 198

It was pretty tight through most of the meet but Ohio State ended up pulling away to win their 4th-straight Women’s Big Ten Championship. This is a big year for the Big Ten Conference. After last season, Michigan, one of the powerhouses of the Big Ten, turned over essentially their entire staff, including the diving coach. On top of that, this is the last year before USC and UCLA join the Big Ten, which will add a lot of depth to the conference and bring the number of women’s programs to 14.

STARS

ILLINOIS – Sara Jass (sophomore IM/breast), Sydney Stoll (junior free/back/fly/IM), Cara Bognar (senior fly/IM) , Suvana Baskar (freshman back)

Now in her second season as the head coach of the University of Illinois, Jeana Kempe has begun to build the Illini up. Last year, Illinois finished 11th, increasing their score from 2022 by 16 points.

Sara Jass, a sophomore, is turning into a very formidable swimmer within the conference. As a freshman last year, Jass made the ‘C’ final of the 200 IM, 400 IM, and 200 breast, winning the ‘C’ final of the 200 breast. This season, she’s currently ranked 10th in the Big Ten in the 200 breast, already having swum a 2:13.12. She’s also improved her 400 IM time from last season and is currently ranked 17th in that event as well.

Jass and junior Sydney Stoll make a very good duo in the 200 IM. Both women were ‘C’ finalists in the event last year. Stoll is a bit of a Swiss army knife, able to swim a number of events. She’s done very well in the 200 free, 200 back, 100 back, and 100 fly. Last year, she took 28th in prelims of the 200 back and given the other events on that day of the meet, it seems like she’ll swim that event as well this year. She did the 200 free last year, however, she’s done very well in the 100 fly this season, clocking a personal best of 54.24 at the Purdue Invite.

Senior Cara Bognar has been one of Illinois’ top swimmers throughout her career there. Last year, Bognar was a ‘C’ finalist in the 400 IM and 200 fly. Bognar didn’t compete in the fall semester, however, she swam in 3 dual meets in January. Due to that, Bognar’s season bests aren’t that fast but she’s been a Big Ten finalist in every year of her career at Illinois, so there’s no reason to think she won’t be again.

Illinois also brought in freshman Suvana Baskar, who has really provided a spark to their backstroke group. Baskar is one of the Illini’s highest-ranked swimmers in the conference, currently sitting at 18th in the 100 back with her season best of 53.66.

INDIANA – Anna Peplowski (junior back/free), Kristina Paegle (sophomore sprint free), Ashley Turak (fifth-year sprint free), Ching Gan (junior distance free), Mariah Denigan (junior distance free), Skyler Liu (junior diving) 

Anna Peplowski, who has become one of the top swimmers in the NCAA currently, is leading the Indiana women’s team into the Big Ten Championships. As a freshman in 2022, Peplowski won Big Ten Freshman of the Year, then went on to win Big Ten Swimmer of the Year last year as a sophomore. At last year’s meet, Peplowski won the 200 free (1:43.33) and 200 back (1:51.81), also taking 2nd in the 100 back (51.72). Last summer she competed on the U.S. women’s 4×200 free relay at the World Championships in Fukuoka. Most recently, Peplowski made headlines at the beginning of February when she ripped a 1:42.20 200 free at IU’s last dual meet of the season. That time ranks 3rd in the NCAA this season and would have been fast enough to win the event at NCAAs last season. 

The 200 free is a given for Peplowski but it would appear she’s likely giving up the 100 back, which she swam in each of her first two seasons, for the 500 free. She had only swum the 500 one time as a Hoosier prior to this season but competed in the event at the Ohio State Invite, where she clocked a 4:38.29, which currently leads the Big Ten this season and 8th in the NCAA.

Indiana sophomore Kristina Paegle has been terrific this year for the Hoosiers as well. Paegle, who took 4th in the 50 free (21.91) and 5th in the 100 free (48.63) last year as a freshman, currently leads the Big Ten this season in the 50 free with a 21.76. She’s also #5 in the conference in the 100 free, where she’s been 47.96 this season. She continues to improve in the 200 free as well, having been 1:45.43 already this season, which ranks 7th in the Big Ten.

Ashley Turak, who returned to Indiana as a 5th year swimmer, will be providing great depth for IU in the sprint events. Turak was 7th in the 50 free (22.35) and 6th in the 100 free (48.66) at last year’s meet. She’s already been faster than that 50 time this season and now has added an interesting and unforeseen 3rd event. Turak is 14th in the conference this season in the 100 breast, having been as fast as 1:01.49. Prior to this season, Turak held a personal best of 1:10.57, which she had swum back in 2018 before she arrived at IU.

Ching Gan was one of IU’s leading scorers at last year’s meet, racking up 71 points in her sophomore campaign. Gan took 2nd in the 500 free (4:38.96) and 1650 free (15:56.55), also taking 12th in the 400 IM (4:14.65). Gan is the leading miler in the NCAA this season, having clocked 15:48.70 at the Ohio State Invite. She’s also already been 4:40.09 in the 500 this season and has improved in the 400 IM, posting a personal best of 4:12.21 at the Ohio State Invite.

Mariah Denigan, another junior and the other half of Indiana’s distance duo, is one of the most interesting swimmers at this meet. Denigan has not yet competed for Indiana this season, however, that was by design. Denigan took the fall semester off as she prepared for the 2024 World Aquatics Open Water Championships. The 10K took place at the beginning of February, where Denigan finished 6th, earning a spot on the US Olympic Team for Paris this summer. Now, Denigan will have to shift her focus back to racing in the pool.

That shouldn’t be an issue, since Denigan is clearly in great shape right now and she’s been excellent throughout her career at IU. Still, she hasn’t competed in an official race in a pool since US Nationals last summer. Nonetheless, last year at Big Tens, she came in 3rd in the 1650 (15:57.82), 4th in the 500 free (4:40.52), and 5th in the 400 IM (4:11.25).

IU also sees Skyler Liu return to the fold. Liu was a surprise addition to IU’s roster at Big Tens last year. Big Tens was Liu’s first meet with the Hoosiers last year and she showed out, taking 3rd in 3-meter, 4th in platform, and 5th in 1-meter.

IOWA – Kennedy Gilbertson (fifth-year sprint free/back), Scarlet Martin (sophomore fly), Sabina Kupcova (sophomore free), Jenna Kerr (freshman free), Olivia Swalley (freshman breast/IM) 

Iowa is continuing its rebuild following the elimination and subsequent reinstatement of the program a few years back. Head coach Nathan Mundt and his staff have done a terrific job, as the Hawkeyes roster has continued to grow over the past 3 years. They’ve done a great job in recruiting, as many of their top swimmers are underclassmen

Starting with the freshmen, Olivia Swalley has been a godsend for the Hawkeyes. The Iowa native has been tearing it up all season. She currently ranks 8th in the Big Ten in both the 100 (1:01.02) and 200 (2:12.92) breast. Additionally, she’s in the top 16 in the conference in both IMs as well.

Jenna Kerr is another high-impact freshman for Iowa. Kerr is a freestyler, and she currently leads the Hawkeyes in the 100 free (50.26), 200 free (1:48.28), 500 free (4:46.09), and 1650 free (16:46.86). Her 500 time currently ranks her in the top 20 in the conference this season. It’s worth mentioning that junior Alix O’Brien could make quite the partner in crime for Kerr in the mile at Big Tens. O’Brien popped a personal best of 10:02.46 in the 1000 free at Iowa’s quad meet with Purdue, Northwestern, and Minnesota at the beginning of the month. That fast of a 1000 would seemingly indicate O’Brien should be way under her season best of 17:01.37 in the 1650 at Big Tens.

Moving on to the sophomores, Scarlet Martin will continue to be a competitive flyer within the conference. Martin currently ranks 20th in the 100 fly (53.68) and 16th in the 200 fly (1:58.67) this season in the Big Ten. Last year, she won the ‘B’ final of the 100 fly (53.96), though she did have a bit of a clunker in the prelims of the 200 fly. Still, she was only a freshman last year and she’s already been under 2:00 3 different times in the 200 fly this season.

Another sophomore, Sabina Kupcova, was just on the outside of scoring at last year’s meet. She came in 28th in prelims of the 200 free (1:48.87) and 29th in the 200 IM (2:02.06). She hasn’t been under those times yet this season, however, she did just go her season best of 1:49.23 in the 200 free at the Big Ten quad meet at the beginning of the month and she’s been within a second of her 200 IM time from last year.

Kennedy Gilbertson returns for her fifth year and is looking to help lead this Hawkeye team. Gilbertson was a ‘C’ finalist in the 200 back last season, qualifying 18th in prelims in 1:57.70. This season, she’s already clocked a personal best of 22.70 in the 50 free, which puts her in scoring range there as well. While she didn’t do it at Big Tens last year, Gilbertson did swim her career best of 53.19 in the 100 back at the Purdue Last Chance meet last February, after the Big Ten Championship. All in all, she has the potential to make it back in all 3 of her individual events.

MICHIGAN –  Lindsay Flynn (junior sprint free), Stephanie Balduccini (freshman sprint free/IM), Katie Crom (sophomore mid-distance free/fly), Hannah Bellard (freshman free/fly/IM), Brady Kendall (sophomore sprint free/fly)

After the Michigan underclassmen came up big at the end of last season, the Wolverines have added another highly impactful freshman class, which should lead to an improved roster from last year. Last year, then-freshman Katie Crom was the Wolverines’ leading scorer at Big Tens, racking up 86 points off a win in the 200 fly (1:53.94) and a pair of 3rd-place finishes in the 200 free (1:44.11) and 500 free (4:39.05). Crom sits in a good spot heading into the meet, having been 1:44.30 in the 200 free this season, 4:41.21 in the 500, and 1:56.46 in the 200 fly. 

Michigan has added freshman Hannah Bellard into the mix. Bellard will serve in a similar role to Crom. She currently leads the Big Ten this season in the 200 fly with a 1:53.21, a time which would have won the event at Big Tens last year. Bellard is 2nd in the conference in the 500 free with a 4:38.44. Where she departs from Crom is that her 3rd event appears to be the 400 IM, in which she is currently ranked 3rd in the conference with a 4:10.29. 

Another high-impact freshman for the Wolverines is Brazil’s Stephanie Balduccini, who has been nothing short of stellar in her first season of yards swimming. Balduccini not only leads the Big Ten Conference in the 100 free this season with a 47.26, she’s also ranked 4th in the NCAA currently. She’s also the #2 performer in the conference in the 200 free, where she’s already been 1:43.30, a time which would have won the event last year this meet. Prior to her arrival in Ann Arbor, most people would have thought Balduccini’s 3rd event would be the 50 free, however, so far, it’s been the 200 IM where she’s really found a lane. Having clocked a 1:56.94 already this season, Balduccini is currently ranked 3rd in the conference in the event. 

Junior Lindsay Flynn, Senior Claire Newman, Sophomore Christey Liang and Sophomore Brady Kendall add a ton of depth to what has become a very formidable sprint group led by Balduccini. Newman and Flynn are ranked 5th and 6th respectively in the conference this season in the 50 free, while Kendall is 12th. In the 100 free, Flynn is 4th in the conference and one of only five swimmers to have gone under 48 seconds so far, while Newman and Liang are also ranked in the top 10. Kendall has also really come into her own as a 100 flyer, where she is currently ranked 5th in the Big Ten this year. 

MINNESOTA – Megan Van Berkom (senior IM/fly), Katie McCarthy (freshman distance free), Eliot Kennedy (junior distance free), Vivi Del Angel (sophomore diver), Paula Rodriguez Rivero (senior backstroke)

Megan Van Berkom, now a senior, is ready to lead the Golden Gophers into the Big Ten Championships. Van Berkom was one of the top swimmers in the meet last year, scoring a total of 82 points. She came in 2nd in the 400 IM (4:04.86), 3rd in the 200 fly (1:55.14), and 3rd in the 200 IM (1:55.67). Van Berkom has been on fire this season. She’s already been faster in the 200 fly than she was last year, having been 1:54.78 at the Minnesota Invite, which ranks her 2nd in the conference this year. Her 200 IM time is down a bit, however, she’s the leading 400 IMer in the conference this year with a 4:04.36. Notably, Van Berkom is leads the 400 IM in the Big Ten this year by a whopping 5.5 seconds.

Another senior, Paula Rodriguez Rivero, was an ‘A’ finalist in both backstroke events last year. Rodriguez Rivero came in 7th in both the 100 (52.89) and 200 (1:55.12) back. She’s been a touch faster in the 100 already this season, having swum a 52.88 at the quad meet with Purdue, Northwestern, and Iowa at the beginning of the month. That time ranks her 10th in the conference this season.

Vivi Del Angel, a sophomore diver, was excellent last year as a freshman for the Golden Gophers. She topped out with a 3rd place finish in platform diving, an event in which she notably posted the top score in prelims. She also came in 8th in 3-meter and 11th in 1-meter.

Minnesota also has a very solid distance duo in freshman Katie McCarthy and junior Eliot Kennedy. McCarthy holds the #8 time in the conference in the 1650 this season, having gone 16:11.89 at the Minnesota Invite. Kennedy is ranked 13th in the event. Of note, Kennedy just clocked a 9:40.52 1000 free at the Big Ten quad meet at the beginning of the month, a time which ranks 6th in the conference this season. McCarthy and Kennedy are both ranked in the top 16 in the 500 as well.

NEBRASKA – Maia Hall (junior breast), Gena Jorgenson (sophomore distance free), Jojo Randby (junior breaststroke), Sarah Barton (senior IM/back), Beatrix Tanko (freshman fly)

Nebraska has a very strong breaststroke duo of Maia Hall and Jojo Randby this season, both of whom are juniors. Hall has been one of Nebraska’s top scorers in each of the last two Big Ten Championships and looks primed to be so again this year. Last year, Hall took 9th in the 200 breast (2:11.63), winning the ‘B’ final, while she came in 10th in the 100 breast (1:00.76). She’s been excellent in the 200 breast this season, having swum a 2:10.93 already, which ranks her 4th in the Big Ten this season. Meanwhile, Randby was 7th in the 100 breast last year (1:00.07) and 12th in the 200 breast (2:12.25). Randby is currently ranked 5th in the conference this season in the 100 breast with a 1:00.54.

Gena Jorgenson was Nebraska’s #2 scorer last year as just a freshman and she’s the top returning scorer from last year. The distance freestyler topped out with a 6th-place finish in the 1650 last year (16:13.54), while she came in 13th in the 500 free and won the ‘C’ final (17th) in the 400 IM (4:15.95). She’s already been faster in the 500 free this season, as she’s ranked 14th in the Big Ten this year with a 4:43.87. Jorgenson is also 9th in the conference this season with a 16:15.82.

Senior Sarah Barton scored in all 3 of her events last year and looks primed to do so again. Last year, Barton came in 13th in the 400 IM (4:15.60), 18th in the 200 fly (1:59.46), and 21st in the 200 IM (2:00.82). She’s currently ranked to score (top 24) in all of those events this season, as well as the 200 back, where she’s been 1:57.28 this season.

Freshman Beatrix Tanko from Hungary has given the Huskers a burst in the 100 fly. Tanko has put up a 53.26 in the 100 fly already this season, which ranks her 14th in the Big Ten.

NORTHWESTERN – Maggie Papanicholas (freshman breast), Ayla Spitz (fifth-year transfer free/back/fly), Lindsay Ervin (sophomore sprint free), Audrey Yu (Sophomore sprint free)

Northwestern is in flux a little bit after losing a number of their top performers from last year, however, some key additions should help steady the ship for the Wildcats. First and foremost, Ayla Spitz brings a ton of experience to Evanston. Spitz is a fifth-year grad student who transferred to Northwestern for this season after spending her undergrad at Cal. At last year’s Pac-12 Championship, Spitz came in 5th in the 500 free (4:39.93) and 200 free (1:44.94), also taking 9th in the 200 back (1:54.08). She’s been very solid so far this season, posting a 1:53.48 in the 200 back (4th in Big Ten), 4:40.25 in the 500 (6th), and 1:44.75 in the 200 free (5th). 

Maggie Papanicholas is another key addition for the Wildcats. Papanicholas was a stellar breaststroke recruit who is showing up big for Northwestern in her freshman year. She’s currently ranked 6th in the Big Ten this year in the 100 breast with a 1:00.76. Her 2:12.09 season best in the 200 breast also has her 6th in the conference this year.

Lindsay Ervin was great last year as a freshman and will look to lead the Northwestern sprint group this year as well. Last year, Ervin came in 11th in the 100 free (49.11) and 19th in the 50 free (22.82), though that doesn’t really do her season justice. Her season bests last year were 22.23 in the 50 free and 48.77 in the 100. So far this season, she’s #13 in the Big Ten in the 50 free with a 22.46, while she’s also 13th in the 100 free (49.02).

Fellow sophomore Audrey Yu will be there to add depth in the sprint events. Yu is Northwestern’s 2nd-fastest 50 freestyler this season with a season best of 22.77. She scored in the event last year, finishing 18th with a 22.70, coincidentally, one place ahead of Ervin. Yu also scored in the 100 breast last season, taking 20th with a 1:02.67. Her season-best this year is 1:03.01.

OHIO STATE – Amy Fulmer (fifth-year Sprint Free/Back), KitKat Zenick (senior sprint free/fly), Nyah Funderburke (junior sprint back/free), Josie Panitz (fifth-year breast/IM), Morgan Kraus (fifth-year back/fly), Hannah Bach (fifth-year breast)

The Ohio State women have won 4-straight women’s Big Ten Championships and are looking good this year as well. A big reason for that is that the Buckeyes returned a ton of last year’s seniors as fifth-year swimmers this year. 

One such swimmer in Amy Fulmer, who scored 88 points as a senior last year. Fulmer was the Big Ten Champion in the 100 free last year (47.02) and took 2nd in the 200 free (1:43.45) and 50 free (21.86). Of note, she also led off the Ohio State 800 free relay in 1:42.94 last year, which broke the University of Michigan pool record. She’s currently ranked in the top 3 in the 50, 100, and 200 free within the conference this season.

Josie Panitz is another OSU fifth year, who, coincidentally, also scored 88 points at last year’s meet. Panitz won the 200 IM in 1:54.96, then took 2nd in each of the breaststroke events. Hannah Bach, another 5th year, was the 100 breast champion last year, swimming a 58.19. She’s looking even better this season, as she has already been 57.78 in the event, which currently ranks 4th in the NCAA.

Morgan Kraus, yet another 5th year, racked up 80 points last year. She topped out with a 2nd place finish in the 100 fly (51.58), also taking 4th in both backstroke events. She ranks 2nd in the 100 fly in the conference this season but is outside the top 8 in the backstroke events.

KitKat Zenick was Ohio State’s top performer last year, scoring a total of 91 points. Zenick, now a senior, won the 50 free (21.85) and 100 fly (51.48) last year, and took 3rd in the 100 free (47.92). Zenick has only been 22.2 in the 50 free so far this season, however, she’s doing quite well in the 100 fly, having swum a 51.66 at the Ohio State Invite, which leads the conference.

Junior Nyah Funderburke is another one of the Buckeyes’ heavy hitters. She was one of the best storylines of the meet last year, going from not making Ohio State’s scoring roster for the 2022 Big Tens as a freshman, to winning the 100 back the next year as a sophomore. Funderburke won the 100 back in 51.52 and took 5th in the 50 free as well, swimming a 21.95. She hasn’t been quite as fast this season, topping out at 22.30 in the 50 free and 53.12 in the 100 back but we know she has the ability to make a lot of noise in West Lafayette.

PENN STATE – Daphne Wils (grad diver), Abby Henderson (senior back/IM), Catherine Meisner (sophomore free), Cat Stanford (senior sprint free)

Diver Daphne Wils was Penn State’s highest scorer at last year’s Big Tens, scoring a total of 49 points. She’s excellent in the springboard events, having taken 4th in 1-meter last year and 7th in 3-meter.

Senior Abby Henderson is the highest-scoring swimmer who returns for the Nittany Lions this year. Henderson came in 14th in the 400 IM last year (4:16.06), 19th in the 200 IM (2:00.04), and 20th in the 200 back (1:57.88). She’s done particularly well in the 200 IM so far this season, already having gone 1:59.02, which ranks her 11th in the Big Ten this year.

Catherine Meisner was very good for Penn State last year as a freshman. In her first Big Tens, Meisner came in 7th in the 200 free (1:45.96) and 22nd in the 500 free (4:47.68). Meisner has been a touch faster in the 500 free already this season, holding a season best of 4:47.18, while she’s only been 1:47.09 in the 200 free.

Senior Cat Stanford returns to lead the Penn State sprint group. Stanford came in 19th in the 100 free (49.34) and 23rd in the 50 free (22.84) last season. She’s put up a 22.77 in the 50 free already this season and swum a 49.80 in the 100.

PURDUE – Maggie Love (junior breast/IM), Daryn Wright (sophomore diver), Sophia McAfee (junior diver), Abby Marcukaitis (sophomore back)

Junior Maggie Love is set to lead the Boilermakers women’s swimmers in the pool at this meet after a great season. Purdue graduated many of their top scorers from last year but Love has taken another step forward and looks likely to be Purdue’s leading scorer in the pool. She’s coming off a set of great performances at the Purdue Quad Meet at the beginning of the month, wherein she broke the Purdue program record in the 200 IM with a 1:58.68. That time currently has her 10th in the Big Ten this season. Love is also 13th in the conference in the 100 breast (1:01.35) and 14th in the 200 breast (2:13.94). 

Abby Marcukaitis is another swimmer who has taken a big step forward for the Boilermakers. She didn’t score any points last year as a freshman, however, this backstroke specialist is the 16th-fastest 100 backstroker in the conference this season with her best of 53.57. Marcukaitis is also ranked to score in the 200 back, coming in at 23rd with her season best of 1:57.62.

As always, Purdue is a top tier diving program in the NCAA. Sophia McAfee and Daryn Wright are a heck of a diving duo, one which combined for 124 points at last year’s Big Tens and has been on fire this season. Last year, McAfee was the leading scorer on Purdue (67 points), taking 5th in platform, 5th in 3-meter, and 10th in 1-meter. Meanwhile, Wright, who was a freshman last year, scored 57 points on 9th-place finishes in 1 and 3 meter, and a 10th-place finish in platform.

They’re just the tip of the iceberg with Purdue diving, as the Boilermakers will certainly have other scoring divers. For example, Jenna Sonnenberg took 6th in 3-meter last year.

RUTGERS – Valeria Egorova (sophomore back), Martyna Piesko (sophomore back/fly), Tina Celik (senior breast/IM), Elysha Pribadi (freshman breast/IM)

Rutgers had a lot of seniors and grad students last year, which of course means they lost some of the leaders on their team. That being said, the Scarlet Knights still have plenty of bright spots on their roster. Valeria Egorova was actually Rutgers’ highest scorer last year as just a freshman, racking up 40 points. Egorova won the ‘B’ final (9th overall) in both backstroke events at last year’s Big Tens, going 52.50 in the 100 and 1:54.14 in the 200. Now a sophomore, she’ll be looking to build on that this year.

Martyna Piesko adds some great depth in the back events as well. Piesko is also a sophomore this year and last year as a freshman she came in 23rd in the 100 back (54.80). She’s already been faster than that this season, holding a season best of 54.12. Piesko’s top performance of the meet last year was in the 100 fly, where she came in 14th with a 53.72. She’s also been faster than that already this season, having gone a 53.11 at mid-season.

Senior Tina Celik was one of the Scarlet Knights’ top breaststroker last season, and she returns to lead her team this year. Celik only scored in the 100 breast last year, where she came in 13th with a 1:01.43 after going 1:01.26 in prelims. This season, Celik has already been 1:01.25 in the 100 breast and 2:13.50 in the 200 breast, which sets her up to score well in both events.

Rutgers also gained freshman Elysha Pribadi from Indonesia, who looks like she could be a star on the team in short order. Pribadi is Rutgers’ #2 breaststroker this season, holding a season-best of 1:01.91 in the 100 breast and 2:14.12 in the 200, which rank 17th and 15th respectively in the conference currently.  She also leads Rutgers in the 200 IM this season with a 2:01.65.

WISCONSIN – Phoebe Bacon (senior Back/IM), Paige McKenna (junior distance free), Mackenzie McConagha (junior fly/back), Hazal Ozkan (sophomore breast), Abby Carlson (junior free)

The Badgers look like they’re in very good shape heading into this meet. Wisconsin sees their top scorer from last year, Abby Carlson, return for her junior year. Last year, Carlson racked up 75 points, 32 of which came off her winning the 500 free in 4:38.15. Carlson also came in 4th in the 200 free (1:44.29) and 10th in the 100 free (48.96). She’s looked good so far this season, already having gone under 4:40 in the 500 (4:39.50), which ranks 4th in the Big Ten, and she’s been 1:44.86 in the 200, which comes in at 6th in the conference.

Of course, Wisconsin also has Phoebe Bacon, one of the top backstrokers in the NCAA currently. Bacon has been excellent so far this season, putting up a 1:50.36 200 back at the Texas Invite, which makes her the #2 performer in the NCAA this season. She’s also been 51.32 in the 100 back, which is currently 10th in the NCAA and also leads the Big Ten. Bacon is also an elite 200 IMer. She leads the Big Ten this year with her season best of 1:55.14, which also ranks 8th in the NCAA this season.

Backing up Bacon is junior Mackenzie McConagha, who is also an elite 100 backstroker. McConagha has already gone 51.46 in the 100 back this season, which ranks 3rd in the Big Ten and 12th in the NCAA. She’s also been 1:53.88 in the 200 back, which is good for 5th in the conference. McConagha also holds a season-best of 52.79 in the 100 fly, which ranks 6th in the conference.

Junior Paige McKenna is one of the top distance swimmers in the NCAA currently and she’s having a great season. McKenna came in 5th in the 500 at Big Tens last year with a 4:40.98, then went on to win the 1650 free in 15:46.90. So far this season, McKenna has been 15:54.95 in the 1650, which is 2nd in the Big Ten and 6th in the NCAA. Her season best in the 500 is 4:42.84.

Hazal Ozkan has come into her own as an elite breaststroker. Last year as a freshman, Ozkan took 6th in the 100 breast (59.97) and 13th in the 200 breast (2:13.63). This season, Ozkan ranks 3rd in the Big Ten in both breaststroke events, having been 59.53 in the 100 breast and 2:09.37 in the 200 breast. Her continued improvement in the breaststroke events is not only big for Wisconsin in terms of its implications on individual scoring, it’s also very meaningful in strengthening their medley relays.

SHOWDOWNS

50 free: 

The 50 free may be the best race of the meet in terms of excitement. The entire ‘A’ final from last year’s meet returns this year and there are a couple of key newcomers to the conference. This was Ohio State’s event last year, as KitKat Zenick (21.85), Amy Fulmer (21.86), and Teresa Ivan (21.87) went 1-2-3. The Buckeyes also had Nyah Funderburke come in 5th with a 21.95. Indian’s Kristina Paegle (21.91) and Michigan’s Lindsay Flynn (21.99) were also under 22 seconds, while IU’s Ashley Turak and Michigan’s Brady Kendall tied for 7th.

This season, Paegle, now a sophomore, has taken another step forward, having already gone 21.76 at the Ohio State Invite, a race in which she beat the crew of Buckeyes head-to-head. Ivan and Fulmer have already been under 22 seconds as well.

Wisconsin freshman Hailey Tierney is the most notable addition this year. Tierney has already clocked a 22.08 this season, which ranks 4th in the conference. Not only that but Tierney also holds a personal best of 21.84, which she swam at the Wisconsin High School State meet last year as a senior in high school.

Michigan’s Claire Newman has also taken a step forward this year. Newman was in the ‘B’ final of the event last year after going 22.33 in prelims. Coming into the meet, she’s 5th in the Big Ten with a 22.10 this season.

500 Free: 

Last year, the 500 free in the Big Ten was full of young talent, evidenced by 7 of the 8 ‘A’ finalists at last year’s meet being freshmen or sophomores. We’re seeing that young core really come to fruition now, as the Big Ten has such a deep group of 500 freestylers. It was Wisconsin’s Abby Carlson who won the event last year in 4:38.15, while Indiana’s Ching Gan took 2nd in 4:38.96, and Michigan then-freshman Katie Crom came in 3rd with a 4:39.05.

Those were the only 3 swimmers under 4:40 at the meet last year, however, this season, there have already been 4 swimmers under 4:40 in the event. Moreover, Gan and Crom are not in that sub-4:40 group. Gan has a season best of 4:40.09, while Crom has been 4:41.21.

Some of the new blood in the event includes Indiana’s Anna Peplowski, who hasn’t historically raced the 500. Peplowski is one of the top 200 freestylers in the NCAA but this year it looks like she’s dropped the 100 back in favor of the 500 free, which makes a lot of sense for her event schedule. Peplowski leads the conference this season with a 4:38.29, which is also her career best. Michigan also saw freshman Hannah Bellard come in. Bellard is at the top of the conference in a number of events, including the 500, where she is 2nd with a 4:38.44, also her career best.

Northwestern also brought in Ayla Spitz, a grad transfer from Cal. While at Cal, Spitz once took 3rd in the 500 free at the Pac-12 Championships with her personal best of 4:38.05. She’s also placed 5th in the 500 at NCAAs, which she did in 2021.

On top of that, Wisconsin’s Blair Stoneburg has already been 4:39.08 in the event this season as well. She’s actually been faster than Carlson, who has a season best of 4:39.50.

200 IM: 

 The 200 IM should be another great race this year. Ohio State’s Josie Panitz is the defending champion, having won in 1:54.96 last year. Wisconsin’s Phoebe Bacon was 2nd in 1:55.06, while Minnesota’s Megan Van Berkom came in 3rd at 1:55.67. The entire top 3 from last year returns this year. 

Currently, it’s Bacon that leads the Big Ten in the event this season, having been 1:55.14 already. It’s also worth noting that Bacon went on to take 5th at NCAAs last year, swimming her career best of 1:53.56. While that personal best definitely makes Bacon the favorite for this meet, it’s worth noting that she has peaked at NCAAs every year so far in her collegiate career and, frankly, has been considerably faster at NCAAs than Big Tens. In fact, Bacon has gone 1:55 each of the past 3 years at Big Tens, then gone on to go under 1:55 at NCAAs in each of those years.

Meanwhile, Panitz is the 2nd-fastest swimmer in the conference so far this season, having swum a 1:56.18 at the Ohio State Invite. Van Berkon, however, hasn’t been quite as sharp in the 200 IM so far this season, having a season best of only 1:58.02, which puts her 6th in the Big Ten.

Michigan freshman Stephanie Balduccini was something of a surprise addition as a factor in the 200 IM. Primarily a sprint freestyler, Balduccini clocked a 1:56.94 in the 200 IM at the Georgia Invite in the fall, which is the #3 time in the Big Ten this season.

SWIMSWAM PICKS

  1. Ohio State
  2. Indiana
  3. Michigan
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Minnesota
  6. Purdue
  7. Northwestern
  8. Nebraska
  9. Penn State
  10. Rutgers
  11. Illinois
  12. Iowa

Picking this meet is complicated. Some areas are very straightforward, while in other spots it could really go any way. The top four really seem to be pretty straightforward. It’s the same as last year. Ohio State returned basically their entire team and, while it means they’ll probably be down a bit next year, they should be viewed as the favorites going into this meet. If Ohio State does in fact win, their five-year win streak will tie the program record for most consecutive Big Ten titles. Michigan holds the Big Ten record for consecutive women’s conference titles, having ripped off 12 straight from 1987-1998.

It’s certainly on the table that Michigan could overtake Indiana for 2nd, especially since Indiana lost considerably more than Michigan from last year’s teams. That being said, Indiana can always rely on a lot of diving points, which can make a big difference, and they have a lot of star power in the pool and on the boards.

While we view Wisconsin as the 4th team, their roster is excellent. They don’t have any glaring holes, their relays will be very good, and they could realistically take home a handful of individual titles. It just feels to us that the Badgers are currently a little bit better built for NCAAs than they are for the Big Tens due to their top-end talent. While we feel good about picking Wisconsin 4th for this meet, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see them finish higher than 4th among Big Ten teams once we get to NCAAs next month.

The next group, 5-8, have similarly built rosters. They each have stars of their own and some events where they have really good depth, however, they each also have areas where it looks like points will be harder to come by. Given that, there could be a lot of fluidity in this middle group.

Past 8th, each of these teams has athletes that could make a huge impact for their teams and, frankly, there could be a lot of fluidity here as well. Relay points are going to be very important here but ultimately it’s going to come down to showing up big in prelims and getting swimmers (and divers) into the top 24.

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S&G
1 month ago

This is Ohio States meet! Other teams are improving, but OSU’s 5th years and Senior Class are dominate!! Some very good recruiting and development from OSU coaching staff!

#MFan
2 months ago

Michigan needs some elite breaststrokers again.

Admin
Reply to  #MFan
2 months ago

They have one…she’s just at Worlds lol.

Letitia Sim. 58.3/1:06.8 SCY/LCM.

2 months ago

Seems so odd that Michigan St can’t afford a team while most of the rest of the conference can. Not a good look on the administration or the school. They unquestionably have the funds.

Admin
Reply to  [email protected]
2 months ago

Well.

Michigan State did have one gigantic expense that the rest of the conference didn’t :-(.

Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

They paid that and still have money leftover.

swimswamswum
2 months ago

Random question but isn’t there a rule around having to do a certain number of meets before conference championships or NCAA? I remember this being a thing for Hugo or another late season addition for Cal. Does this not apply for Dennigan or have the rules changed?

IU Swammer
Reply to  swimswamswum
2 months ago

Maybe that was a Pac12 rule.

Admin
Reply to  swimswamswum
2 months ago

There’s a minimum number of meets at the team level, but I’m not of any at the individual level. Hugo made his 2019 debut at Pac-12s.

Of course you need one meet before NCAAs to qualify (for individual events) – but that’s not a minimum per se, it’s more just a need to hit the qualifying time.