Illinois swimming and diving fall short in second straight meet

By Daniel Collins

Winning a close meet still remains on the checklist for the Illinois swimming and diving team this season. 

In their latest meet against Notre Dame on Friday, the Illini were on the losing side of the spectrum, falling by a score of 157-143.

Illinois got off to a promising start, winning three of the first four events. However, it only tallied up three event wins for the remainder of the meet.

The Illini are now 3-3 on the season, and the trend has been for them to either dominate or lose by slim figures. In their three victories, they have won by a combined 436 points against Southern Illinois, Illinois State and Tabor College, respectively. In the team’s three defeats, it has lost by a combined 42 points to Northwestern, Kansas and Notre Dame, respectively.

In order to come out on top in close meets, head coach Sue Novitsky said it’s going to take a full team effort and determination.

“You have to have to be willing to hurt and have confidence in your training so that when you ask your body for more, it will respond,” Novitsky said. “We can’t rely on a few people to carry the team it has to be a full team effort in every event.”

Typically, the team has gotten good production off the boards this year. This was not the case against the Irish, as the Illini were swept in both of the night’s diving competitions, the 1- and 3-meter dives.

Senior Alison Meng had one of the strongest Illini performances of the night, winning the 100 backstroke with a time of 54.55 seconds, which now ranks her fourth of the Illini’s top-10 fastest performances in that event. Her second individual achievement came when she swam a season-best time of 2:02.64 in the 200 back. Meng was also on the relay squad that won the 400 freestyle relay.

Besides her achievements, Meng enjoyed the continued energy from the team.

“Our girls were louder than the opposing teams for the past two close meets, and I think that’s huge,” Meng said. “It’s all about being behind your teammates for every race and staying in the moment the whole meet, focusing on one race at a time.”

Also padding their career stats were freshman Nelly Casas and sophomore Gabbie Stecker. Casas won her second collegiate event with a career-best time of 10:22.51 in the 1,000 freestyle. Stecker won the 200 and 500 free, while finishing second but setting a career-best time in the 200 individual medley with a time of 1:52.48.

“I was shocked when I touched the wall and realized that I had swam a personal best,” Stecker said of her achievement in the 200 IM. “I was really happy with that swim, and I am looking forward to possibly swimming that event again.” 

With nine second-place and eight third-place finishes on the night, the Illini showed an improvement in their depth.

“We are very deep in certain areas and lack depth in others,” Novitsky said. “We have multiple individuals that can step in and swim in all through the line-up which helps depending on our competition’s strengths.”

Despite their loss, the Illini still left the meet feeling that they are improving as the meets roll on.

“They wanted to win the meet, but this meet was about toughness,” Novitsky said. “This was our third straight week on the road and competing. We have had our toughest weeks of training and continuing to compete better each week was awesome.”  

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