Illinois swimming and diving returns to action at The Big Challenge

By Drake Pena

For the first time in two weeks, the Illinois swimming and diving team will be back in the pool Nov. 20 for the crowded Big Challenge meet.

Traveling to Topeka, Kansas, the Illini will face their biggest assortment of competition this season. The field includes Iowa State, host team Kansas, Nebraska-Omaha, Northern Iowa, and Big Ten rival Nebraska.

Although the team is coming off its longest break between meets so far, head coach Sue Novitsky said she believes that the break was needed to rest fatigued bodies and minds.

“I think it’s a positive,” Novitsky said of not competing in a week. “We hit them pretty hard with training. We’re just working on building ourselves up and progressing through the season.”

Sophomore standout Samantha Stratford agrees with her coach, noting that the break should help her team in the future.

“I think after our four or five weeks of travel the rest was really needed and will help us coming into this meet,” Stratford said.

The team will look for Stratford to be one of the key contributors in this weekend’s meet. Her 13 first-place finishes in 15 individual events lead the team.

Stratford played a big role in the Illini’s last win. She earned a first place finish in the 200 meter fly and 200 and 400 individual medleys.

Illinois heads into the challenge with a record of 7-1. Senior co-captain Lori Lynn is satisfied with where her team stands.

“I feel like it’s been a really great season overall,” Lynn said. “We’ve been really positive, and just had a lot of energy on the deck, so I think that’s helped us to be better and swim faster.”

Nebraska comes in with a 3-2 record and will be the main team on the Illini’s radar. However, this upcoming meet will allow Illinois a chance to do something it rarely does with its competitors: team up as representatives of the Big Ten. 

“It’s always good to race a fellow Big Ten team, but because of this format we are kind of teaming up with Nebraska,” Novitsky said. “It’s like the Big Ten versus the Big 12 versus the Mid-Majors. We’re friendly rivals this week.”

The teams will also compete against each other individually.

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