Illinois swimming and diving comes up short against Jayhawks

By Daniel Collins

It was a meet of milliseconds for the Illinois swimming and diving team as the meet against Kansas on Saturday came down to the last event.

The Illini lost 154-146 by three-hundredths of a second.

A tight finish was only fitting seeing as the Illini started off the meet winning by 18-hundredths of a second in the 200 medley relay. From that point on, things remained neck and neck.

“It was a great situation for the team to be in,” said head coach Sue Novitsky of the close meet. “Figuring out how to handle those high-pressure situations, but still be able to stay relaxed and perform.”

Novitsky said part of learning how to swim in pressure situations is by blocking out all the distractions around you and not making the event any bigger than it really is.

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In order to accomplish this, the team implements deep breathing and visualization exercises.

“If you overthink things and your brain gets in the way of your body, then you’re not able to perform the way you ideally have been in training.” Novitsky said. “People were tripping up on themselves and getting in their own way a little bit.”

Amidst the pressure of the event, senior Alison Meng set the Kansas pool record in the 100 backstroke with a time of 55.16 seconds and won the 100 butterfly.

For Meng, taking the positives out of the event and not dwelling on what small details could have changed the outcome will help the team moving forward in other competitive competitions.

“In close meets like this, races can go one way or the other; you just never know,” Meng said. “Having a positive attitude throughout will be the deciding factor … because if we win a couple (events), it totally changes the momentum, and that positivity will carry over to big invites and big events.”

Besides Meng, the performances of freshman Samantha Stratford and the diving squad helped keep the meet a seesaw battle.

Stratford won the 100 and 200 breaststroke. She also raced in the 400 individual medley for the first time in her collegiate career and finished second with a time of 4:26.13, placing her ninth all time in Illinois history in that event.

On the boards, the Illini secured first place finishes in both the 1-meter and the 3-meter dive, won by senior Erika Murphy and sophomore Olivia Kassouni, respectively.

Had the Illini touched the wall four-hundredths of a second sooner in their last event — the 200 freestyle relay — their record would have been 4-1 on the year. Instead, they are 3-2 and will use this meet as a stepping stone against higher competition later in the season.

“In the end, this can really help us in the long run,” Novitsky said of the meet. “Once you get to the Big Ten Championship, every race is going to be a tight race.”

Daniel can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @chisports2.