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Illinois swim and dive team has season filled with mixed results

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Illini's Samantha Stratford swims the butterfly against Nebraska on Jan. 21st in the ARC pool.

Illini's Samantha Stratford swims the butterfly against Nebraska on Jan. 21st in the ARC pool.

Jessica Jutzi

Jessica Jutzi

Illini's Samantha Stratford swims the butterfly against Nebraska on Jan. 21st in the ARC pool.

Erich Fisher, Staff writer

Coming into the 2016-17 season, the Illinois swim and dive team had 12 newcomers on the roster and only three seniors.

However, this did not seem to hold back the team this season.

Illinois got off to a quick 4-0 start to its season when it had home meets on back-to-back days in October. The Illini’s relays proved they would be formidable right away while Sam Stratford looked poised to have a dominant season in the individual medley events.

“Our fitness level is really good right now,” said Illinois head coach Sue Novitsky. “To see them step up and respond like this is great.”

Freshmen Kristin Anderson and Monica Guyett made contributions right away for the team with Anderson having strong performances in her relays and individual events and Guyett in the long-distance freestyle events.

“Coming in, I didn’t think I’d be making an impact like I am, even knowing I was going to be important to the team, so it’s always a good feeling,” Anderson said. “I was definitely nervous going in (to the first meet).”

At the midseason point, Illinois stood at 6-1 and were about to face its first big test going into the Missouri Invitational on Nov. 17. The Illini finished second with 637 points. Missouri scored 1,332 to win the meet.

Several of the team’s swimmers set lifetime bests and NCAA ‘B’ standard times in Missouri. Junior Ashley Aegerter recorded a ‘B’ time of 2:15.51 in the 200-yard breast stroke event, and Stratford broke the school record in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 1:58.95, also a NCAA ‘B’ time.

The second half of the season did not bring on the same amount of success with the level of competition increasing significantly in the pools.  

The Illini dropped their first home meet since October in a matchup against Arkansas. In the following week, the team fell to Notre Dame and Iowa.

Illinois’ times stayed roughly the same as they had been all season, but the Illini were simply outmatched by their competition.

The next day, however, the team picked up a win against Iowa State, its first win since Nov. 5 when it defeated Indiana State. Winning 13 of the 16 events propelled the Illini to their seventh win of the season.

Stratford took three first-place finishes on the day in the 200-yard breast stroke, butterfly and individual medley.

Senior Night in Champaign did not bring a win for Illinois, losing the meet 169-131 to Nebraska. Seniors Gabbie Stecker, Audrey Rodawig and Amelia Schilling tried to will their team to victory, but they still came up short.

The Illini rounded out their season finishing 12th out of the 14 teams in the Big Ten championships. Despite what the finish line says, the team had several strong performances at the championship.

On the first day, the relay team of Schilling, Stecker, Rodawig and Stratford achieved the school-record in the 800-yard freestyle relay.

Illinois broke another school record the next day when the relay team of Stecker, Stratford, sophomore Megan Vuong and Rodawig finished the 400-yard medley with a time of 3:41.73.

Day Three brought mixed results for the Illini, but the highlight was sophomore Madeline Kuhn posting a personal best 200.75 in the three-meter diving event.

The last day of competition for Illinois brought three NCAA ‘B’ times with Stecker, Stratford and Aegerter all achieving ‘B’ times in their events.   

Overall, the Illini finished their season with a 7-5 record in the regular season, a second-place finish at the Missouri Invitational and placed 12th at the Big Ten championship.

Illinois is losing seniors Stecker, Rodawig and Schilling, but do have Stratford and junior Gabrielle Bethke returning with Anderson and Guyett, who will be more experienced going into their second season.

Erichf2@dailyillini.com

@ETFisher24

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