Swimmers head south to Curacao

By Courtney Linehan

Illinois swimmers like to ring in the new year with sun and sand. Last year they headed to California to train and compete in the Irvine Invitational; a season earlier they were in Hawaii for the holidays.

This time around, the team is taking a southern turn, spending almost two weeks on the South American island of Curacao. There they plan to keep up their training regimen and will compete against the Curacao national team.

“Our emphasis in December is training, getting that good work in so they have a good base going into the championship season,” head coach Sue Novitsky said.

The team scheduled just one meet this month, a trip to the Ohio State Invitational last weekend. The Illini took fifth place, competing against tough Big Ten opponents Minnesota, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan State.

Novitsky said some teams chose to rest its swimmers going into the competition, but she continued to push hers in hopes of building endurance.

“Overall we swam pretty well,” Novitsky said. “We had about 60 or 65 percent season best times, so we had some good progress.”

Junior Barbie Viney picked up two NCAA B qualifying times, finishing the 100 freestyle in 50.75 seconds in the preliminary race and winning the final in 50.98.

While the Illini did not finish as strongly as other teams, Novitsky said they have shown improvement compared to where they were a year ago.

“If I just look at the times compared against last year, a lot of people are swimming faster now than they were last year,” Novitsky said.

Hurdles left to overcome include everything from bouts of illness to getting relays on the right track. Novitsky said she would like to see improvement in the distance freestyle events, in which the Illini look better in practice than in meets.

“I’m just waiting for the great work I see in practice to carry over into competition,” Novitsky said. “They’re doing well, I’m just waiting.”

One of the biggest setbacks the team will deal with for the next few weeks is inconsistent practicing. Between finals week and an eight-day break before heading to Curacao, there is little time for consistent practices in the early part of the month.

While the team’s schedule is designed to include a less-intense recovery week during finals, there are still athletes missing practice throughout this week as they take time to prepare for papers and exams. Novitsky has open swim times reserved and does not require the athletes to be in the pool, but says they know how important it is to get good practice time in.

“We talk about how obviously it’s important that you still get in and swim, but there’s no set time that you have to be here,” Novitsky said.

Novitsky said, though, that she’s not worried about athletes slacking off, because they know it will become obvious once the break training session begins.

“I have to put a lot of trust in them,” Novitsky said. “I appreciate that they take that responsibility, and they care enough about what they’re doing to keep up with it.”