Illinois swimming and diving looks to continue best start in five years

By Drake Pena

The Illinois swimming and diving team compete against Florida International University on Friday.

Head coach Sue Novitsky knows her team is fatigued from the long stretch of competition its been on, however she is hopeful her team can remain resilient.

“We are little banged up right now,” Novitsky said “It’s our fourth straight week of competition, but it’s going to be a good, tight meet for us. It’s going to be an opportunity for us again to get on the road, and step up.”

The Illini will travel to Miami after last week’s slate of three meets in two days. Illinois exited the long weekend with a 2-1 record, losing its first meet to conference rival Northwestern, then rebounding with victories over ISU and SIU.

Novitsky noted that the consecutive meets were not left to chance, and that every part of the schedule is set up for a specific reason.

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“We wanted to test them. I like to put them in spots where there is going to be some adversity, and they have to learn how to handle it,” Novitsky said. “Sometimes you have to suffer a little bit to figure out how well you handle circumstances that you don’t consider to be perfect.”

Although the circumstances may not be perfect, Illinois’ 6-1 record — its best start to a season in five years — nearly is.

Novitsky is feeling good about her team’s start, using the lone loss to Northwestern as a motivational tool.

“The team is handling the competition well,” Novitsky said. “The Northwestern meet was really tight but it’s a good learning experience for us …We came away from the meet continuing to grow as a team, and continuing to put the pieces into place.”

Florida International will be looking to continue its winning ways as well. With a 5-0 record of its own. FIU has been dominant at home, not surrendering more than 90 points at the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Center this season.

FIU is led by two sophomores — the reigning C-USA Swimmer of the Week Kyna Pereira and C-USA Diver of the Week Rebecca Quesnel, who has received the honor seven times in her young career.

Illinois is led by a pair of young swimmers, too. Freshman Megan Vuong is coming into her own, recently winning Big-Ten Co-Freshman of the Week. Sophomore Samantha Stratford has contributed many points this season, winning her first 10 individual events. Stratford said her work ethic and mindset are part of her stellar start to the season.

“I just keep practicing really hard, focusing on small details during practice, and taking it one race at a time,” Stratford said. “We all work really hard, and we all push each other during practice. It’s not one person setting the example, it’s everyone feeding off of each other. 

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