Freshman impresses despite loss for swimming

Freshman Alison Meng received a standing ovation during her very first collegiate swim meet.

The Lodi, Wis., native took first in the 100 backstroke with a 58.04. Meng didn’t even know she won until she looked at the board.

“I felt like I was doing pretty good, but I couldn’t tell if on the other side of the pool someone was doing better than me or not,” she said.

Meng’s win was one of only two first-place finishes by the Illini during their dual meet against Northwestern on Friday at the ARC. Illinois lost the meet 199-101 to the Wildcats in its season opener, which doubled as the promotional Splash Bash event.

“I think the meet could have gone better. I don’t think we finished our races or swam our races to the best of our ability,” head coach Sue Novitsky said. “We were a little tight, a little frantic or panicky in the moment sometimes.”

Sophomore Jessica Holz won the 200 backstroke for the Illini’s second win. Northwestern captured all of the other events. Novitsky said the Illini were starting their races strong but just not finishing, and many of their races didn’t come down to huge time spreads.

“We did not execute very well on turns and breakouts,” Novitsky said. “We can talk about wanting to do better, about wanting to be a stronger team but I think we need to work on being calm and carrying the focus over from a practice to a meet situation.”

Novitsky said she was proud of how Meng swam, calling her a natural racer. Meng, a multiple state champion at Sauk Prarie High School, took second in her other event, the 100 butterfly.

“You don’t become a four-time state champion if you don’t know how to race, but she likes to race and she likes to win,” Novitsky said.

Though the final outcome was not what the swimmers hoped for, Novitsky was pleased that they did not give up early in the meet.

“That’s the attitude I need to see,” Novitsky said. “It’s not being complacent and saying, ‘Well I just don’t have it today, I guess I’m off the hook,’ It’s being like, ‘Alright, what do I need to do, I need to step this up,’”

Novtisky said the swimmers now know what to focus on and can learn a lot from their first meet. She’s happy they had a competitive start to the season and is ready to bring more of a competitive edge to practice.

“It was the first meet so it was definitely a learning experience,” Holz said. “We were figuring out where we need to improve and what part of our meet is a little bit weaker than the other parts. It’s just a learning process, so hopefully the next time around we can figure out some things we need to work on