Illinois swimming and diving takes 10th at Big Tens

The Illinois swimming and diving team took 10th place in the Big Ten Championships, which concluded Saturday in Iowa City, Iowa. It was the first time since 2007 that the Illini had not finished last in the conference championships.

“To be able to move up meant a lot,” Illinois head coach Sue Novitsky said. “We’re by no means satisfied with where we are, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction for us.”

Minnesota won the meet, grabbing its first Big Ten title since 2008.

Indiana came in second, 29.5 points behind the leader. Illinois finished ahead of Nebraska 84-82 in a competition that came down to the final relay to settle the standings, while Michigan State (65) finished last.

The Illini were led by senior Brittany McGowan, posted numerous strong performances all week. Her 400-meter freestyle relay was the fastest in school history, with a time of three minutes, 21.83 seconds. She also placed fourth on the school’s all-time list in the 100-meter freestyle, and the 400-meter medley team with McGowan, Alison Meng, Erica Lynn and Kristen Manias was the second fastest in school history (3:45.34). McGowan’s 50-meter butterfly performance made her eligible for a possible invitation to the NCAA Championships.

“It meant a lot,” McGowan said. “Our class came in to the University of Illinois for the first time where we had a home pool as a freshman, and the first time having home meets in three years.

To go out with the final meet in the Big Tens was really important to us, and we just wanted to do something great for the team.”

Novitsky praised the mental toughness of her team, especially as the meet wore on to its fourth day, and was very pleased that her team was able to finally quantify the progress she has observed.

“They were able to go out and see the fruits of their labor start to take effect, and I think they are very proud of what they were able to accomplish.” Novitsky said.

Meng was a key contributor to the Illini, nothing the sixth-fastest time in school history in the 100-meter butterfly (56.02)in addition to her leg on the 400 medley.

“It was great,” Meng said. “I didn’t really do anything different to prepare for it. I guess I was more excited because it’s the Big Tens, but I didn’t want to change my routine a whole lot.”

This was the last meet of the season for the team as a whole, although the Last Chance Meet, hosted at Purdue next weekend, will provide one last opportunity for individuals to qualify for nationals.