The Wisconsin Badgers opened their season with a pair of narrow wins over border rivals Minnesota at home Friday night. The Wisconsin women topped the defending Big Ten champs by just 4 points, while the men won by 18.
Wisconsin only won 7 of the meet’s 16 events on the women’s side, but a relay sweep led the Badgers to a big upset win over the four-time defending conference champs.
If there was one game-changer for the Badgers, it was junior sprinter Chase Kinney, who did her best impression of graduated All-American Ivy Martin. Kinney was everywhere for the home team, and a tough Minnesota squad simply had no answer in the sprints.
Kinney won the 50 free (22.62) and 100 free (49.90), plus put up two gigantic relay splits. The Badgers trailed Minnesota through three legs of the medley relay, sitting half a second back, but Kinney popped off a 22.06 to steal the win 1:40.70 to 1:40.96.
Then in the 400 free relay, with the meet on the line, Wisconsin fell 2.3 seconds behind Minnesota on the leadoff leg, only for Kinney to explode for a 48.61 split to put her team back in the hunt. Freshmen Emmy Sehmann and sophomore Marissa Berg would come through clutch in closing out that 3:21.97 win.
Some of the most entertaining races were the distance events, where two endurance titans clashed. In the 1000, Minnesota’s Sam Harding – coming off an open water appearance for Canada at the World Championships – topped Wisconsin’s Danielle Valley 9:51.61 to 9:54.95.
But in the 500, Valley (who transferred in from Florida last year) got her revenge, going 4:48.83 to top Harding.
Minnesota freshman Rachel Munson, a former Wisconsin high school state champ, swept the breaststrokes in 1:02.65 and 2:16.17. Munson is looking more and more like a viable replacement for redshirting NCAA champ Kierra Smith in the Gophers’ loaded breaststroke group.
Wisconsin answered back with a backstroke sweep from one of their newcomers. Australian freshman Jessica Unicomb went 54.60 and 1:57.45, beating highly-touted Gopher freshman Zoe Avestruz in the 100 and returning All-American Brooke Zeiger in the 200.
Gopher sophomore Danielle Nack swept the butterfly events (1:59.05 and 54.32), but it wasn’t enough, as Wisconsin pulled out a narrow 152-148 win.
The Wisconsin junior class was simply unstoppable in the freestyle events, and leveraged that advantage into a big team win.
Junior Brett Pinfold handled two of those freestyle wins, going 1:38.24 to blow out the 200 free field and 44.61 to take the 100 free. Second behind him in that 100 was fellow junior Cannon Clifton, who was coming off a 20.18 50 free win of his own.
In the longer events, a third junior took home the sweep. New Zealander Matt Hutchins blew out the 500 free field in a 4:25.50 and won by an even bigger margin with a 9:13.48 in the 1000.
With those 5 freestyle wins in hand, Wisconsin predictably won the 400 free relay going away. Pinfold, Hutchins and Clifton paired with Ryan Stack to win in 2:57.97, with Clifton splitting an impressive 43.55 on the anchor leg.
Harrison Tran added two butterfly wins (48.15 in the 100, 1:49.19) for good measure for Wisconsin.
Minnesota continued to be led by its breaststrokers, which went 1-2-3-4 in the 200 breast for the third straight week, a streak that has comprised this entire season so far.
Sophomore Conner McHugh, a former Wisconsin YMCA swimmer, led the way, going 2:00.93. John Bushman, who transferred in from Wisconsin, was second in 2:02.58. McHugh also won the 100 breast in 56.07.
In a late bright spot for Minnesota, freshman Brian Poon came from behind to win the 200 IM in 1:50.18, running down Wisconsin’s Todd McCarthy over the freestyle leg.
Despite that Gopher win, the Badgers came back to dominate the final relay and clinch a 159-141 win.