Illinois’ swimming and diving prepares to spring forward

Brad Meyer The Daily Illini Freshman Illini swimmer Brittany McGowan performs the breaststroke in the 200 yard individual medley at the Illinis first home meet in over 4 years on Friday Oct. 10 2008. Illinois defeated Nebraska at the home opener with a score of 171-129.

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Brad Meyer The Daily Illini Freshman Illini swimmer Brittany McGowan performs the breaststroke in the 200 yard individual medley at the Illini’s first home meet in over 4 years on Friday Oct. 10 2008. Illinois defeated Nebraska at the home opener with a score of 171-129.

By Jessica Glade

While winter break gives most students time to sit back and relax, the Illinois swimming and diving team was hard at work. The Illini used the time off from classes as an opportunity to focus on their training and spent three weeks in Puerto Rico on their annual training trip in order to prepare for the second half of the season.

“It’s the time of the year we increase the work,” head coach Sue Novitsky said. “The break gave us time for work, doing double practices and spending four to five hours in the pool, as well as working with weights and dry land work. It was a good time and with school being out, we had more time to focus on our sport and took the time to get closer as a team.”

But Illinois’ busy break didn’t stop there. After arriving home from Puerto Rico, the Illini jumped right back into the water. At the Indiana Invite in Bloomington, Ind., the Illini went face-to-face with some of the top teams in the country, including No. 11 Indiana, No. 13 Tennessee and No. 19 Michigan. The team finished fourth after two days of competition with a final score of 186.5 points, following Tennessee with 1,454 points, Indiana with 1,284.5 points, and Michigan with 714 points.

“This was a character builder,” Novitsky said. “This was a chance for them to experience turnaround travel. We left the hotel early that morning, and we were in the pool a few hours later. This was to see how they turned around and worked to compete hard, and as the first day went on they started to get better.”

Finishing behind Big Ten rivals Indiana and Michigan in the tournament is not necessarily an indicator of how the Big Ten Championships will go for the Illini in February. Novitsky admitted a ready-made excuse for their performance when she said the team was fatigued. But come next month against the rest of the Big Ten, Illinois will be rested and ready to go and will benefit from the more exciting, electric atmosphere that the big event will bring. While the Illini fell to Indiana and Michigan, the Orange and Blue have already beaten Michigan State in a close dual meet in October.

Another meet that may help indicate where the Illini stand in the Big Ten takes place Saturday when the team faces Iowa. The Hawkeyes have had a strong showing this season, standing at 4-1 in dual meets as well as placing second out of six at the Missouri Invite and also second place in a quad meet.

“I expect this to be a hard-fought meet,” Novitsky said. “Iowa has been swimming well so far and I expect them to bring that. Our meets are tightly contested and hopefully we’ll see more people step up and bring in top times.”

With winter break coming to an end, it is time for the Illini to get back to work. After playing Iowa at home, the Illini have another dual Jan. 24 against Illinois State. Along with the meets, the team is looking ahead toward the Big Ten Championships in February, something they have been training for all season long.

“January is a tough month,” Novitsky said. “There is lots of racing, and it helps get some more intensity and to pick up more speed and hone the skills we’ve been working on all season. As we get closer to Big Ten (Championships), we are going to rest more and look forward to coming in with that intensity. There’s still a lot of work to do.”