Illinois swimming gets used to regular season grind against Kansas

By Michal Dwojak

As the Illinois swimming and diving team prepares to face Kansas on Saturday morning at home, it continues to get acclimated with the routine and practice of a long regular season. 

“I think that we’re all doing a good job and are working hard,” sophomore Sarah Sykstus said. “Everyone on the team is a leader in some way.” 

The team is at the difficult part of the season. Practices have been intense, with work on yardage, keeping both pace and fitness level up, as well as doing more speed work. The team has been recovering both physically and mentally, head coach Sue Novitsky said. The athletes have made sure to keep up with nutrition and rest for there to be positive recoveries. 

As the grind of practices and meets takes its toll on the athletes, a priority for the team has been to stay sharp and focused. It is important for each swimmer to stay in the present, as it is tempting to look both back at the past and forward to the future. The team is learning how to work together and support each other during difficult moments.

“Our swimmers need to not get down when they swim a down race,” Novitsky said. “They need to know that the next swimmers up will support them.”

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This year’s team is smaller in comparison to years past. The Illini know they must accept the circumstances and take advantage of them. Having fewer swimmers provides an opportunity for each athlete to not only swim their usual race, but also to expand to other distances, helping them grow as swimmers. 

As they continue to learn, the Illini are looking to build positive momentum with each meet as the season progresses. Toward the later part of the season, the Illini will compete in more multi-team meets rather than the dual meets in which they’ve competed so far. This will result in greater competition, as there are more talented swimmers. By the end of the season, the team wants to have a winning dual-meet record as well as break a few relay and school records.

This Saturday’s meet is seen as a step in that process, a chance to work toward a larger goal. The Illini will face a Jayhawks team that will provide for tough competition, especially in the breaststroke and freestyle races. Novitsky will send out a new lineup just for this reason, but would not mention what the changes to the lineups would be. She wants her athletes to be focused on the meet rather than being preoccupied with the issue of where they will be swimming.

That mentality is taking effect on the team.

“We will just need to continue to be fast and hopefully have personal best and beat records.” Sykstus said.

Michal can be reached at [email protected] and @bennythebull94.