Illinois swimming ready to compete at Big Tens

The Illinois swimming and diving team looks to make history at the Big Ten Championships by keeping the same mentality it has held all season.

With a two-week break since competition, the Illini are rested and ready to face the rest of the conference in Minneapolis. The athletes will treat the meet as any other when they jump into the pool.

“We all need to do what we have been doing all season long,” sophomore Lori Lynn said. “If we head into it with the same mentality, we’ll be in a good position.”

The Illini held a final swim practice Tuesday morning before boarding the bus later that morning. The team has responded well to the rest as it started the process of tapering after its last meet against Nebraska on Jan. 25.

Illinois has had more mornings off, shorter distances to swim in practice and shorter practices. It has spent less time in the weight room with fewer sets and lighter weight. The team maintains a concentration on shoulder and core exercises, as keeping the nervous system sharp is the most important goal.

The 12 Big Ten teams will compete for a championship over that span four days, beginning Wednesday. Eight teams are ranked top-50 in the nation, according to collegeswimming.com; the Illini are not ranked nationally, but are 10th in the conference.

Head coach Sue Novitsky said her team will welcome such a high number of teams, as it will result in longer breaks between events. Many swimmers will swim one event per day, or two if they qualify for nightly finals, in comparison to the three events every hour during a dual meet.

Heading into competition, the team is 1-5 against Big Ten opponents this season, its lone win being against Michigan State early in the season. Novitsky hopes the Illini will rise in the Big Ten standings with a better finish than last year, when they finished tied for 11th.

Novitsky also expects her swimmers to break school records during the weekend. She anticipates all five relay squads to have a good chance of breaking records as well as many individual event records. Both senior Courtney Pope and junior Alison Meng, who has already set records during the season, are expected to perform well, as they have led the team during the season and are hopeful to qualify for NCAA Championships in late March.

“If they remember to keep their cool and have a relaxed feeling like they had all season, they’re going to put themselves into a great position at the conference level,” Novitsky said.

The Illini are also happy to be coming off a two-week gap between competitions. The team was originally scheduled to compete in the Minnesota Challenge, held Feb. 7-8, but decided against competing because only one swimmer would have competed. The Illini coaches concluded that rest was the best preparation for the championships.

As the team begins the competition, the most important factor will be relaxation. A lot of time has been spent on the details, such as turns and starts, so competing is mostly a matter of reflex. The work has been done, and it is now time to put it into effect.

“They have swum many times in this situation,” Novitsky said. “There’s nothing more to get themselves ready as they always do and to let themselves perform.”

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