Big Ten Senior Spotlight: Jenny Holtzen of the University of Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Badgers have been excellent during Championship Season for a number of years now, with the 2015 season seeing them take 4th place overall at the Big Ten Championships, the team’s best finish since 2012. Additionally, the team excelled on the national stage as well, taking 13th overall at the 2015 NCAA Championships, and the Badgers were just 23 points shy of securing a top 10 finish. In 2016, the girls from Madison are poised to do serious damage once more at the Conference Championships, and Jenny Holtzen out of Fayetteville, Arkansas will be one of the Badgers’ most powerful tools in the distance events.

Coming to the Badgers as a tremendously successful swimmer in the Arkansas club swimming scene, Holtzen had multiple state records to her name as a member of the Razorback Aquatic Club. In the 15-18 age group, Holtzen established (and still holds) the records in the 1000 free (9:47.89), 1650 free (16:25.77), and the 400 IM (4:19.47), and she was also named Arkansas Swimmer of the Year three times. In the high school realm, Jenny was one of the most decorated swimmers in AHSAA history, with state titles in the 100 breast, 500 free, 200 IM, and 200 free during her career. Representing Fayetteville High School, she also set state records in the 200 IM (2:04.82) and 500 yard free (4:48.28) as a junior, with the 500 free record still standing five years later.

As a freshman in the Big Ten scene, Holtzen immediately began to prove her potential in the distance events. At the 2013 Big Ten Championships, she would take 22nd in the 500 free (4:51.85, 4:49.10 in prelims), 24th in the 400 IM (4:23.40, 4:20.98 in prelims), and 15th in the 1650 (16:40.18). Notably, she also swam to a 16:25.68 during the Ohio State Invitational earlier in the season, a lifetime best for her.

Returning to Big Tens as a sophomore, Holtzen would change up her events slightly and improve upon her placings from the previous year. She would record finishes of 16th in the 200 breast (2:17.38, 2:15.89 in prelims and 13th in the 1650 (16:24.59), while also suffering a DQ in the 400 IM. Both of those scoring performances were collegiate bests for the then-sophomore, and the 200 breast was a lifetime best in the process.

Tackling her junior season more determined than ever, Jenny enjoyed her best Conference meet yet at the 2015 Big Ten Championships. Individually, she would take 19th in the 500 free (4:47.85, 4:45.16 in prelims), 15th in the 400 IM (4:17.89, 4:15.64 in prelims), and 12th in the 1650 (16:14.97). Her 500 free swim became the seventh-fastest performance in school history, and her 1650 also represented the fourth fastest effort in the Badgers’ all-time rankings. Thanks to her performance in the 1650, she would also receive the opportunity to race at the NCAA Championships the following month, tallying finishes of 23rd in the 1650 (16:13.10, personal best) and 50th in the 500 free (4:47.63).

It is easy to see that Holtzen has only gotten better with each passing year with the Badgers, and her mid-season times bode well for her final collegiate taper meets. At the Texas Hall of Fame Invitational, Holtzen posted times of 4:46.89 in the 500 free, 16:16.26 in the 1650, 2:15.34 in the 200 breast, and 4:18.77 in the 400 IM. Her 200 breast time was a lifetime best, and all of her other swims approached her career bests as well, putting her in prime position to go out with a bang.

Given how good Wisconsin has been during Championship Season each and every year, all in attendance in Ann Arbor this week will have their eyes on the team to see if they can match their incredible performances from last season. Many teams in the Big Ten are fortunate to have large senior classes to help lead by example for their younger teammates, but the Badgers will march into Canham Natatorium with only four seniors on the roster. Luckily, Coach Whitney Hite will be able to rest easy knowing that he has Holtzen to shine as a symbol of resilience while she enjoys her last hurrah on the conference scene.

Best Times (SCY/LCM):
200 Free: 1:49.56/2:04.96
500/400 Free: 4:45.16/4:19.46
1000/800 Free: 9:47.89/8:49.49
1650/1500 Free: 16:13.10/16:51.61
100 Breast: 1:05.46/1:13.86
200 Breast 2:15.34/2:33.55
200 IM : 2:04.82/2:22.89
400 IM: 4:15.64/4:55.31

School Major/Degree: Social Welfare
Favorite Event: 1650 free
Favorite Hobby: I’m taking a hip hop class this year so I’m pretty into dancing right now
Favorite Movie: Seven
Person You’d Like to Meet Growing Up:  Brian Littrell from the Backstreet Boys
Favorite Food/ Pre-Race Meal: One of my favorite foods is plain oatmeal, which luckily also works really well as a pre-race meal.

At what age did you become involved with swimming? How did you get into it?

I joined my first club team when I was 4. My 11-year-old sister swam on the team, so we knew the coach. You had to be 6 to officially start, but I annoyed the coach so much begging to join that one day he said if I could swim a 25 free I could join. I did it, and he kept his word! There were some name changes, but I swam for that same team until I left for college.

What is your favorite collegiate swimming memory and why? 

The finals session on the second day of Big Ten’s last year was incredible. The session started off with the 400-medley relay pulling off a huge win, and after that the momentum just kept going. Everyone who swam that night either won their heat, event, or just had a phenomenal swim. Everything went right for us that night, and it was so fun to watch and be a part of.

You received the opportunity to compete at NCAAs for the first time last season, and you came home with a 23rd place finish in the 1650 as well as a 50th place finish in the 500. What was your first trip to NCAAs like, and what was your biggest takeaway from that meet?

My first time at NCAAs was a blast! Since I only swam two events, I tried to really get behind my teammates and help keep the energy going. Everybody swam really well, and it was just great to be a part of it and watch all of my teammates’ hard work pay off. We have a smaller women’s team in general, but when there are only 9 of us at a meet everybody has a role, which was probably my biggest takeaway from the meet. Even though I wasn’t there scoring points, positive energy and good swims definitely help keep the momentum going.

For a number of years now, Wisconsin has done exceptionally well during Championship Season both on the women’s side and the men’s side. Do you feel like there is something special about the training atmosphere in Madison that allows the team to always do so well in February and March year in and year out?

There’s definitely something special in Madison! We spend the whole year working incredibly hard and really focusing on doing everything right, including the little things, which really pays off at the end of the season. Having a small team helps everybody see their role, which allows everybody to get excited about championship season. The whole team just gets so excited to swim fast and watch our teammates swim fast that the energy is incredible and that combined with our hard work really enables us to always be successful at Big Tens and NCAAs.

What/who do you think has been the single most important catalyst to your swimming career?

My club coach throughout high school, Scott Berry, was absolutely phenomenal. He really helped me not only as a swimmer, but helped me mature a lot as a person. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without him!

Do you have any plans/commitments following the completion of your collegiate career?

I don’t graduate until December, so I’m just planning on finding a job in Madison, hopefully something that involves working with elders. After I graduate, the plan is to move to Chicago.

What should we look forward to from Wisconsin as a whole at this year’s Big Ten Championships?

We had a fantastic meet last year, but we’ve got big goals to make this year even better. Fans should definitely expect us to continue our dominance in areas we typically do well, but I also think we’re going to surprise some people with our performances in other events as well. It’s definitely going to be a fantastic meet!

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About Varun Shivakumar

Varun Shivakumar hails from Hoffman Estates, IL and swam competitively for 16 years. He swam both backstroke events at Northwestern University, and ranks fifth in the school’s All-time performances list in the 200 yard backstroke. Representing NASA Wildcat Aquatics, he also competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha, NE …

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