The Illinois swimming and diving team returned to action on Saturday at a double dual against Illinois State and Southern Illinois. The Illini topped Illinois State, 197-102, and knocked of Southern Illinois, 207.5-91.5. The victories over the in-state foes are the Orange and Blue’s first wins of the young season.
“I saw some great improvement in our squad today,” said head coach Sue Novitsky. “We had great execution and focus throughout the meet. The overall team effort was outstanding. We still made some mistakes so there is room to grow, but today resulted in a great pair of team wins for our girls.”
The day started at 10 a.m. with the diving events, in which Illinois displayed its depth. In the one-meter diving, Raquel Corniuk and Erika Murphy finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Corniuk accumulated 261.75 points over her six dives, while Murphy finished right behind her with 260.60. Corniuk and Murphy also cracked the top six on the three-meter platform, with Olivia Kassouni joining them. Corniuk (254.05) finished fourth, while Kassouni (253.05) and Murphy (244.90) claimed fifth and sixth, respectively.
“I think our divers competed well,” stated Novitsky. “It’s always good when you can have two or three people score in each event. They definitely helped us out.”
The Orange and Blue swimmers’ day began at 2 p.m., and it was a very successful day. The Illini won 11 of the 14 swimming events, including the two relays. In the three events that they did not win, Illinois had the second-place finisher.
“The scoring is definitely loaded based on winning and we took advantage of that,” Novitsky noted. “We had people fighting for those middle places and that helped us rack up the points. We gained momentum from each event, starting with the first relay and going all the way through to the last. We had a lot of people step up and that contributed to our strong day.”
The afternoon started off with the team of Alison Meng, Sam Stratford, Sarah Sykstus and Gabby Bethke winning the 200 medley relay in a pool-record time of 1:45.12. Meng’s leg, the 50-yard backstroke, was also a pool record. In total, the quartet combined to record individual victories in six other events.
Meng earned victories in both the 100 and 200 backstroke, recording a season-best time of 2:03.95 in the latter. Stratford was the first to touch the wall in the 200 free (1:52.05), 100 butterfly (:56.79) and 200 IM (2:04.95). Her times in the 100 butterfly and 200 IM broke the previous pool records. Bethke won the 50-yard freestyle in :24.16 for her first collegiate win.
Gabbie Stecker added a pair of wins to the Illini total, winning the 200 butterfly (2:05.21) and the 500 freestyle (4:55.81). Her 500 free performance was the Illini’s fifth pool record of the day.
“It’s exciting for our girls to come in and set a new records,” explained Novitsky when asked about the five pool records. “Whether it’s at your home pool or another team’s facility, it means you are swimming well if you can take down the old mark. It gives the girls a lot of confidence when they can set a new bar.”
Nelly Casas also earned her first career collegiate victory, leading a one-two finish in the 1,000 freestyle. Casas finished in 10:23.96, while Kayla Dlugopolski stopped the clock in 10:24.72. Casas also notched a third-place finish in the 500 freestyle, touching the wall at 5:05.79.
The Illini recorded one-two-three finishes in both the 100 and 200 butterfly. After Stecker finished first in the 200-yard race, Sykstus (2:05.86) and Sascha Myers (2:06.40) finished second and third, respectively. The same duo repeated the feat in the 100 fly, with Stratford taking the title. Sykstus completed the race in :56.86, while Meyers finished in :57.83.
In the 100 breaststroke, Ashley Aegerter notched a runner-up finish with a 1:07.27 showing. Hollie Smith (1:07.85) and Bella Schamber (1:08.01) finished fourth and sixth, respectively. Smith also finished fifth in the 200 breaststroke.
Amelia Schilling grabbed a fifth-place finish in the 200 freestyle (1:53.10), as well as fourth in the 200 breaststroke (2:06.83). Sloane McDermott and Callan McDermott had top-six finishes in both the 100 and 200 backstroke. Sloane finished third in both events, while Callan was sixth at each distance.
In the 50-yard freestyle, Megan Marchuk finished third in a time of :24.45. She later finished fourth in the 500 freestyle with a performance of 5:10.86.
The 100 freestyle saw a trio of Illini grab top-six finishes. Bethke led the way, finishing second in :52.53. Sabrinne Gibson (:53.12) and Kirsten Zborek (:53.74) claimed fourth and sixth, respectively.
In the 200-yard breaststroke, Jennifer Coady garnered runner-up status with a 2:24.87 showing. Stephanie Hein’s 2:27.76 was good for fourth. Hein later finished fifth in the 200 IM (2:12.59), while Coady was right behind her in sixth (2:13.50).
The Orange and Blue team of Bethke, Gibson, Marchuk and Meng closed out the day with a win in the 200-yard freestyle relay. The quartet swam a winning time of 1:36.37.
“Coming into today we wanted to focus on winning the turns and starts,” explained Novitsky. “We also wanted to emphasize getting to the wall first, and I think we did a great job with all of those things. I credit that to the work we have done in weight room.”
Novitsky and her squad will be back in action next weekend as they head to Lawrence, Kan. to take on the Kansas Jayhawks. That contest is schedule to begin at 1:00 p.m. CT on Saturday, Nov. 8.
College Swimming News courtesy of Illinois swimming and diving.