More than 9,000 total seconds ticked by during Saturday’s dual between Kansas and Illinois, but it came down to the last three-hundredths of a second for the Jayhawks to edge out the Illini, 154-146, in Robinson Natatorium. Kansas out-touched Illinois to win the final event—the 200-yard freestyle relay—and hang on to the three-point margin created from individual wins by Chelsie Miller and Haley Molden, and freshmen Hannah Driscoll, Sydney Power and Madison Straight.
The Illini, who handily defeated Kansas in Champaign last season, came ready to compete as a nail-biting 200-yard medley relay opened the meet with anchor Gabrielle Bethke out-touching the Kansas A team of Yulduz Kuchkarova, Bryce Hinde, Deanna Marks and Driscoll. Illinois finished in 1:44.50 and Kansas in 1:44.68, setting a tone that would last until the hands hit the wall in the final race.
Miller, one of KU’s specialty distance swimmers, made her season debut in the 1,000-yard freestyle, but wasn’t afraid to light up the pool as she and teammate Lindsay Manning pulled away from the pack early on. Miller and Manning finished first and second in the event with times of 10:09.75 and 10:22.14, respectively.
“I’m really happy,” Miller said about her 1,000-freestyle swim. “This week has been pretty rough, we increased our yardage this week so I’ve been a little tired and wasn’t too sure with how I was going to perform. I’m really happy with it.”
KU’s Haley Molden matched up with the Illini’s Gabbie Stecker in the 200-yard freestyle for a close race. Molden, whose previous in-season best time of 1:51.04 ranked fifth in the Big 12, out-touched Stecker in a final time of 1:50.95 while Stecker finished in second with 1:51.25. Madison Straight and Allison Merecka finished fourth and fifth behind Illinois’ Megan Marchuk with times of 1:54.04 and 1:55.21, respectively.
Allison Meng, the fourth-fastest 100-yard backstroke swimmer in the Big Ten, went up against KU’s Kuchkarova, Madison Hutchison and Hannah Angell in a quick race. Meng finished in a time of 55.16, followed by Kuchkarova, Hutchison and Angell with times of 57.31, 57.99 and 58.31, respectively.
Freshman Sam Stratford from Illinois brought the heat in the 100-yard breaststroke, touching first in front of Hinde and the Pocisk sisters. Hinde, Lydia Pocisk and Gretchen Pocisk each set in-season personal best times, going 1:05.14, 1:06.71 and 1:07.19, respectively, placing second, third and fourth.
The third win in a row for Illinois came in the 200-yard butterfly as junior Sarah Sykstus edged out senior Deanna Marks with a time of 2:04.78. Marks, not close behind, finished the race in second place with a time of 2:06.96.
Freshman Driscoll and sophomore Leah Pfitzer took first and third place in the 50-yard freestyle, swimming quick times of 24.23 and 24.69, respectively. The win by Driscoll was the fourth event won by KU going into the three-meter diving.
In the diving well, freshman Sydney Power jumped, flipped and twisted to victory with a score of 260.48. Graylyn Jones followed in third with a score of 250.05.
“Sydney is capable of enormous things,” diving coach Brian Pritt said. “She’s really new and still a bit inexperienced in the sport and we’re looking for so much more from her. That was just barely scratching the surface of what this girl’s going to do. We were happy with the results, it still isn’t what we’re capable of yet. We still have a young team and we’re still looking to add to our mental game right now.”
Back in the competition pool, Molden edged out Bethke, an Illinois freshman, swimming a time of 52.05 for the win. Driscoll was not far behind, finishing in third place with a time of 52.97.
Dropping almost a full second from last week’s match up with TCU and North Dakota, Straight swam a final time of 2:03.57 in the 200-yard backstroke to win the event ahead of Kuchkarova. Kuchkarova’s second-place time of 2:04.49 finished before Callan and Sloane McDermott of the Illini.
Hinde and Stratford returned for the 200-yard breaststroke, with Hinde trailing Stratford and finishing second in a time of 2:22.32. Gretchen Pocisk slid into fourth place, swimming 2:25.59 and Lydia Pocisk finished in sixth with a time of 2:27.38.
The 500-yard freestyle of Miller, Manning and Illinois sophomore Gabbie Stecker came down to the second half of the race. Miller was able to pull ahead of Stecker, who went neck-and-neck with Manning to the finish. Miller took home first with an in-season best time of 4:57.24 and Manning finished in third with an in-season best time of 4:59.58.
Pia Pavlic and Marks stepped up for the 100-yard butterfly against the Illini’s Meng, whose time of 55.45 placed first. Pavlic and Marks finished in second and third, respectively, with times only one-hundredth apart, going 56.97 and 56.98. Both were in-season best times for the Jayhawks.
Erika Murphy from Illinois returned to the boards, this time on the one-meter, and stole first place with 255.83 points. Jones came in second with a score of 253.73, while Power and Maser finished fifth and sixth with scores of 225.23 and 221.03, respectively.
The pressure was on in the final two events, as the Jayhawks led the meet 133-131 going into the 400-yard individual medley. A win from Miller (4:21.95) and third-place finish from Straight (4:26.62) were crucial to for the Jayhawks to maintain the two-point lead going into the final relay.
“There was a lot of pressure,” Miller said, “Before the 400-IM after the last break, we had a meeting with Clark and he told us that we were up by nine points and these last two races really mattered. There was a lot of pressure to make sure that we won that event.”
It came down to the last leg of the 200-yard freestyle relay, as Kuchkarova went up against the Illini’s Megan Marchuk to pull out a win—by three-hundredths of a second. The team of Driscoll, Molden, Pfitzer and Kuchkarova went a time of 1:35.79 to out-touch Illinois’ time of 1:35.82 and win the meet.
“I didn’t think Yulduz out-touched her,” Campbell said. “One of the reasons why we anchor Yulduz, is because she has really good finishes—she has long arms. When I first saw it I thought they had touched us out, and then I looked up and we had won by three-one hundredths. If it had been four-one hundredths it would not be a good feeling, but three-one hundredths made a great feeling.
“We had a really solid meet from top to bottom,” Campbell continued. “You want to get to that point where it’s going to come down to the last relay. We got it there, Yulduz made the touch, and we got the win. It was a great way to end.”
Tabor College, in its first year of program history, also participated in the meet.
Campbell and the Jayhawks, having avenged 2013 losses in back-to-back weeks, will take a short break before returning to competition as hosts of the Kansas Classic in Topeka, Nov. 21-23.
College Swimming News courtesy of KU.