Illinois swimming wins in Puerto Rico, ties at home

The Illinois swimming and diving team continued to progress through competition during break, winning the Copa Coqui Invitational and ending in a tie with Rutgers University.

The Illini traveled to Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, to compete in the 16-team invitational on Jan. 5. They spent 10 days in Puerto Rico, using the experience as a training camp, but also an escape from the frigid temperatures of the Midwest.

The team won the invitational, scoring 58 points and edging out in-state rival Illinois State and Cleveland State, who finished second and third respectively.

The Illini won three events, two of which were relays. In the 200 meter medley relay, Alison Meng, Erica Lynn, Lori Lynn, and Courtney Pope claimed the event with a time of 2:04.48.

They also took first in the 500 meter freestyle relay. Megan Marchuk, Gabbie Stecker, Courtney Pope, Kristen Zborek, Alison Meng, Rachel Burke, Mary Beth Howard, Anne Goering, Sabrine Gibson and Cara Chuang won with a time of 4:38.47.

Lori Lynn captured the team’s third event victory placing first in the 100 butterfly with a time of 1:07.32.

The day’s success was well received by head coach Sue Novitsky, who wanted the team to continue to work hard during a hard stretch.

“Overall, the team competed very well,” Novitsky said in a press release. “We are training very hard right now and the girls are very tired and sore. We keep talking about choosing your mindset and being able to step up even if you don’t feel great and still swim fast. They competed strong from the start of the meet to the end.”

The Illini finished in a tie as they hosted Rutgers on Jan. 10, when they also celebrated Senior Day.

Having little rest, the team started slow as Rutgers held the lead for a majority of the meet. Heading into the 12th event, the 500 free, the Illini were down 21 points. The team needed to finish first and second in the last event, the 400 free relay, in order to secure a tie.

The relay team of Alison Meng, Morgan Marchuk, Gabbie Stecker, and Courtney Pope won the event at 3:29.79. The second Illini relay team of Jessica Holz, Cara Chaung, Sabrinne Gibson and Mary Beth Howard secured a tie for the team finishing second with a time of 3:22.29, beating the next Rutgers team by five seconds.

“A tie is kind of a rare event in swimming,” assistant coach Alec Hayden said in a press release. “They (Rutgers) got out to a good lead right away and our girls weren’t quite ready to go those first couple of events. I think we did a really nice job of battling back, getting the one-two in the final event to get the tie.”

Meng won both the 100 backstroke (56.62) and the 100 fly (56.34), while Stecker took first in the 1000 free (10:16.44) and the 500 free (4:57.70).

The Illini won two more events as Pope placed first in the 100 free (52.77) and Lori Lynn, who claimed the 200 fly (2:05.85).

The team will continue to compete during a challenging schedule as they get ready to face Iowa State on Friday Jan. 17, at the Iowa Triple Dual meet on Saturday, and host the Illinois Double Dual meet on Monday.

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