Illinois Picks Up Commitment From TISCA State Champion Gwen Bakker (2023)

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Gwen Bakker of Brentwood, Tennessee, has committed to swim and study at the University of Illinois beginning in the fall of 2023.

“I am beyond excited to announce my verbal commitment to continue my athletic and academic career at the University of Illinois! I want to thank my coaches, teammates, family, and friends for all the love and support throughout this process. I cannot wait to join such an amazing program! Go Illini!🧡💙 #B1G10 #hailtotheorange

Bakker is finishing up her senior year at Father Ryan High School and competes year-round for Excel Aquatics. As a primary breaststroker, Bakker was the TISCA state champ in the 100-yard breaststroke this season, winning in a time of 1:03.20. Just a month later at 2023 NCSA Spring Championships, she finished 18th in finals with a Summer Junior Nationals qualifying time of 1:02.66. She doubled down on breaststroke best times, making finals in the 200-yard breaststroke, placing 29th and touching the wall in 2:18.37.

Best Times SCY:

  • 100 breast — 1:02.66
  • 200 breast — 2:18.37
  • 100 fly — 1:02.42
  • 200 IM — 2:13.38

The University of Illinois women placed 11th out of 12 teams at the 2023 Big Ten Conference Championships with a score of 215 points. Bakker’s highest scoring event at 2023 Big Tens would’ve been the 100-yard breaststroke where she would have snuck into the B final in 16th place which would have made her the highest scoring Illinois finalist in the event ahead of graduated senior Kaleigh Haworth in 19th. Her 200-yard breaststroke time would have been just outside of finals scoring range, putting her in 28th place. Freshman Sara Jass was Illinois’ highest scoring finalist in the event, winning the C-final in 2:14.40.

With her current 100-yard breaststroke time, Bakker is only a hair slower than Haworth’s 1:01.79 breaststroke split on Illinois’ 400-yard medley relay. With 2023 Big Tens being Haworth’s last conference meet, there’s a real possibility of Bakker snagging a breaststroke leg on at least one of Illinois’ medley relays.

All of Illinois’ points were scored by four swimmers, primarily in the breaststroke and IM events. Freshman breaststroker Sara Jass was Illinois’ highest point scorer with 18 points total.

Bakker joins a large 2027 class, made up of at least 7 other swimmers. The class also includes sprint freestylers Maggie Adler, Marin MacAndrew and Martina Cibulkova, butterflyers Abigail Ninan and Kalina Nikolaeva, backstroker Megan Meade, and breaststroker Kylee Sessions. Sessions and Bakker are coming in with nearly identical times in the 100-yard breaststroke, so there could be a battle between the two for relay spots. 

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