Illinois swimming breaks even after long weekend

The Illinois swimming team escaped a long weekend of competition with an even record by defeating three of its six opponents.

Illinois opened the weekend competition in Ames, Iowa, on Friday as they defeated Iowa State 168-132, claiming eight event wins.

The Illini fell behind early after the Cyclones jumped to a 21-15 lead despite Illinois winning the 200-medley and the 1000-yard freestyle.

They were able to take control in both 200 free and 200 butterfly where they swept both events and took a 65-47 lead they would never surrender.

Freshmen duo Gabbie Stecker and Amelia Schilling led the team with 35 combined points. Stecker, who is a Bettendford, Iowa, native, won three individual events, claiming firsts in the 200 free, 500 free and 400 IM with times of 1 minute, 52.54 seconds, 4:56.52 and 4:28.81, respectively.

Other first-place finishes for the Illini included Alison Meng in the 100 backstroke (56.95) and 100 fly (56.93), Lori Lynn in the 200 fly (2:05.00), Jessica Holz in the 200 back (2:03.55) and Erica Lynn in the 200 breaststoke (2:21.07).

The team also claimed the 400 free relay as Meng, Pope, Holz, and Morgan Marchuk swam a time of 3:29.33.

Head coach Sue Novitsky was proud of the way her team was able to respond to falling behind early.

“It was a competitive meet all the way through with a lot of close races,” Novitsky said. “Iowa State kept fighting and we needed to stay focused. We did a better job of putting ourselves in the mix and being aggressive at the start of the races and fighting to the wall.”

The Illini continued a long of weekend of competition Saturday as they faced No. 11 Indiana, No. 21 Missouri and Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.  

Competing for a second consecutive day took a toll on the Illini as the team captured just one event win when Meng won the 100 back with a time of 55.50.

The team was closest to upsetting Missouri with a nine-point deficit at 154-145. They also suffered losses to Indiana (193-103) and Iowa (198-101).  

Pope finished second in the 200 free (1:51.81) and was part of the 400 free relay that placed second with a time of 3:27.36.

Novitsky knew her team was not in best shape heading into Saturday’s meet.

“You could see the fatigue catch up to us a little in the middle of the meet,” Novitsky said. “We are at the point in the season where you are very tired and sore. We asked a lot of our kids to swim the full number of allowed events, and they kept racing strong which was great to see.”

The Illini completed their long weekend of competition Monday as they hosted Southern Illinois and Olivet Nazarene, where they won 12 of 16 events to beat both Southern Illinois (199.5-96.5) and Olivet Nazarene (245-50).      

Meng placed first in both the 50 free (24.05) and 200 back (2:01.93). She was also part of the 200 medley relay team (1:45.57) and the 200 free relay (1:37.71), which both placed first.

Pope also finished first in the 100 free (51.96) as well as the 200 IM (2:09.09) in addition to being on both winning relay teams.

After a long weekend of competition, the Illini were happy to end it on a winning note.

“It was tough but doable for us,” Meng said. “We knew we had to give it our all to be able to compete.”

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