Big Ten Women’s Championship Fan Guide: Penn State is On Fire, But Tempered by Diving

This Big Ten women’s Championship is kind of a quirky meet. This is a league with so much parity – if you were doing an “all else equal” dual meet ranking, there would probably be about 6 teams in the 12-20 range. At last year’s Big Ten Championship meet, the top three teams in the team standings (Minnesota, Indiana, and Ohio State) combined to win just a single relay, which was Indiana’s victory in the 800 free relay.

Instead, last year, Wisconsin and Penn State dominated relay action, while Indiana, Ohio State, and Minnesota made up big ground in individual swims and especially diving. The Big Ten really highlights just how little of an impact relays usually have on overall team standings in conference championship meets.

With that being said, both of those top two teams lost some big contributors last season, but they are both still far too deep, it would seem, for anybody to make a real run at the top two, though the Buckeyes always hit their taper for this meet and hardly lost any scorers last year.

Expect a pair of very top-heavy teams from Wisconsin and Penn State to make plenty of noise, though, in the individual events, and a Michigan team that is already vastly improved in year 1 under Mike Bottom, plus a solid Purdue squad, to have a big impact on the meet’s outcome, even if they won’t actually contend for the title.

Stars

Illinois – Allison Meng (sophomore backstroker), Megan Marchuk (sophomore freestyler), Lori Lynn (freshman butterflier), Erin Rodriguez (senior butterflier) – The Illini have brought in a few solid recruiting classes in a row, and could very well have some good individual points this year, but most of their scoring should be from relays.
Indiana – Lindsay Vrooman (junior distance freestyler), Brooklyn Snodgrass (freshman backstroker), Ashley Specht (senior breaststroker), Haley Lips (freshman butterflier) – Lindsay Vrooman is by far the best miler this year in a race that the Big Ten is pretty weak in. The Hoosiers are very deep everywhere but the sprint freestyles.
Iowa – Olivia Kabacinski (freshman sprinter/breaststroker), Becky Stoughton (sophomore distance freestyler), Karolina Watalowicz (junior breaststroker), Lindsay Seemann (junior middle-distance freestyler) – Iowa’s men’s sprint group has had many great years in a row; freshman Olivia Kabacinski is a great start to developing their women’s group as well.
Michigan – Adrienne Bicek (senior distance freestyler), Angie Chokran (junior breaststroker), Julia Andracki (senior breaststroker), Marni Oldershaw (freshman IM’er) – The freshmen are stepping up big, the veterans are stepping up big; Michigan is firing on all cylinders in year one combined with the women. They swim well at duals, and this is a team full of “fighters”.
Michigan State – Jenny Rusch (senior sprinter), Summer Strickler (junior sprinter), Michelle Garland (freshman breaststroker) – Jenny Rusch used Winter Nationals as her mid-season rest meet, so wasn’t at the Magnus Cup in November where most of this team’s best relay swims were. Exepct those times to get way better with her addition.
Minnesota – Haley Spencer (senior breaststroker), Kierra Smith (freshman breaststroker), Tori Simenec (sophomore freestyler), Tess Behrens (junior freestyler/backstroker), Becca Weiland (sophomore butterflier), Maggie Keefer (junior diver) – This is a really, really good roster that has the kind of power in their relays that sets up great for NCAA’s.
Nebraska – Taryn Collura (sophomore sprinter), Ariel Weech (senior sprinter), Hayley Martin (senior backstroker), Shannon Guy (junior butterflier) – The Huskers were 11th (out of 12) at last year’s Big Ten Championship, but are having a really good season this year. They should move into the top 10 this season.
Northwestern – Taylor Reynolds (senior sprinter), Ellen Anderson (freshman distance freestyler), Karen Turner (freshman backstroker), Shelly Patton (freshman IM’er) – Reynolds was an NCAA qualifier last year, and she’ll be counted on to carry the team this season. Lots of very good freshmen on the roster as well.
Ohio State – Shannon Draves (senior butterflier), Annie Lazor (freshman breaststroker), Michelle Williams (junior sprinter), Kelsey Moran (senior backstroker) – When you see how far this Ohio State senior class has come in four years, you can’t help but root for them. Moran, for example, was a 58.0 100 backstroker coming out of high school, and now goes a 52.7. That’s huge.
Penn State – Paige Whitmire (senior sprinter/backstroker), Alyson Ackman (freshman freestyler), Amy Modglin (senior backstroker), Merritt Krawczyk (senior butterflier/IM’er) – This could be Penn State’s “magic year,” where a ton of seniors are looking to go out strong, with just the right mix of freshmen.
Purdue – Francesca Marr (sophomore breaststroker), Rhi Sheets (sophomore butterflier), Carly Mercer (junior sprinter), Lauren Gustafson (senior sprinter) – Purdue was really noticably without their usual diving scores last season. The return of that should make up for the injury to Emily Fogle.
Wisconsin – Ivy Martin (sophomore sprinter), Ruby Martin (senior sprinter/backstroker), Rebecka Palm (junior butterflier), Aja van Hout (sophomore IM’er) – As go the Martin sisters shall go the Badgers this season.

Showdowns

200 yard freestyle – Three of the top four from last year’s meet in this 200 free graduated, but there’s still a ton of depth in the event left. This is one of the few races that should be dominated by youth at this year’s meet, with Penn State freshman Alyson Ackman coming in as the top seed. The Minnesota girls Jessica Plant and Tori Simenec will be her biggest challengers, though Indiana’s Lindsay Vrooman could win the whole thing if she chooses the 200 free over the 200 fly this season.

100 yard backstroke – Indiana freshman Brooklyn Snodgrass is the top seed coming into the meet in this race, but expect some big tapers to chase her. That includes defending champion Tess Behrens from Minnesota, who went from about where she is now in-season to a 52-low at Big Ten’s last year. With Justine Ress from Indiana having the famous Ress family gene, and Penn State’s Paige Whitmire firing on all cylinders along with the rest of her team, we could see 5-6 swimmers go under 53 seconds at this year’s meet. Wisconsin’s Ruby Martin probably won’t contend for the title, but her improvements in the race this season will give hopes that she can at least get into the A-final this year.

200 yard butterfly – The 200 butterfliers, though maybe not with any really big names, are very deep this season. In fact, they have 8 swimmers who have been under 1:59 this season – the same number as the SEC. Aside from a hiccup as a sophomore, Ohio State’s Shannon Draves keeps getting better-and-better in this 200 fly, and she’s already been faster in-season this year than any previous year of her career. Meanwhile, Purdue sophomore Rhi Sheets has been rewriting the Boilermakers’ record books, and Indiana freshman Haley Lips is part of a very good Hoosier butterfly group. Her teammate Brenna Maclean is the top seed; after a tough season in 2011-2012 that ended well none-the-less, she’s continuing to build on that momentum and has already been 1:56.8 this season.

Standings

I want to say that Minnesota are the heavy favorites. They returned most of their core, and they still have a very good diving duo of Maggie Keefer and Sarah McCrady. Their freestyle group is really outstanding. But there’s one stat that’s making me pause. When looking through the top 10 times in each event in the conference this season, here’s how they breakdown for the top teams. Minnesota holds 21 of them. Indiana holds 22 of them. Penn State holds 30.

We know that these meets aren’t won on paper. Any coach who’s ever scored a psych sheet knows that. But the Nittany Lions are the really overlooked team in this meet. They could legitimately win the swimming scoring; if you gave them Indiana’s diving group or Minnesota’s diving group, I think Penn State is probably the favorites at this meet. Alas, if they get any diving points at this meet, it will be very few, and that will be their letdown.

As it is, the Indiana Hoosiers graduated a ton last year, and so the Golden Gophers should be able to hold on for the victory. I think Penn State jumps all the way to 3rd, with Wisconsin struggling to have the depth to hold them off.

An improved Michigan team should jump their rivals from Northwestern and an injury-pleated Purdue. Here are our picks below:

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

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Dutchwomen

Such a deep conference. Incredible really. Only thing I would change here is Michigan above Wisky, and Illinois above MSU. Welcome, Nebraska, to a tough women’s conference. This ain’t the Big 12 anymore baby. When is Osborne going to build a pool out there? Have they learned anything from Omaha in 08/12 ? Could have bought the pool cheap and put it in a steel frame fieldhouse, no?

Andrew Smith

Diving is certainly the big variable in predicting these meets esp. for those of us who don’t even follow it a little bit. Also, does every coach taper his top swimmers for this? I’m making all these numbers up but if Minn and Indiana send 10 swimmers each to NCAAs while Iowa and Purdue send 2, wouldn’t the stronger teams be less likely to be tapered for this?

The question I’ll throw out there is…. Who has bragging rights next year If Indiana places 4th at Big 10s but places higher than all other big 10 teams at NCAAs?

ReeceStyles

Can’t wait for the 50/100 frees, I see ivy Martin blasting off!!

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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