Illinois swim and dive looks to its freshmen


Sarah Park

The Illini swim team gathers together during the Orange and Blue Meet on October 7.

By Erich Fisher, Contributing Writer

With a team consisting of twelve freshmen, it wouldn’t have been unusual to assume that there might be some growing pains with this year’s Illinois swim and dive team.

But within the team and coaching staff, the 6-1 start to the season and a second-place finish at the Missouri Invitational was expected.

“(The freshmen) had a lot of experience coming into college,” Illinois swimming head coach Sue Novitsky said. “They’ve swam in big meets before in high school — like competitive high school rivalries to state finals meets. The biggest thing was just making sure they felt just as comfortable swimming here as they did in high school.”

The team has indeed looked comfortable this year, losing only to Northwestern in its first road meet of the year. 

“There are a lot of new faces, and it’s great,” junior Samantha Stratford said. “We knew that there were a lot of fast times coming in (from the freshmen), so we expected them to be able to race and things have been working out great so far.”

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When a little under half the team is made up of freshmen, there comes a lot of unanswered questions at the start of the season that a coach looks to resolve. Some questions include: who will fill the vacancy of the graduated seniors, how are the freshmen going to adjust to college, or how are they going to handle being on their own for the first time?

“I try to focus on creating a sense of accountability among the team as well as making sure they claim ownership of themselves,” Novitsky said. “With that said, I also want to make sure they have time to adjust to college because it’s just something you can’t adjust to right away, but I think they are handling it very well so far.”

The Illini have used a mentor system to help the freshmen adjust, with several upperclassmen taking the younger swimmers under their wing.

It’s also hard not to feel comfortable when you have some of the best swimmers in the Big Ten on the team. Stratford and senior Gabbie Stecker represented the Illini in the Big Ten All Stars vs. USA National Team meet on Nov. 12.

“They’ve grown so fast, and it’s awesome to see so many new faces and attitudes on the team,” Stecker said. “I just want to make sure they are comfortable and to try and have fun like I do.”

The Illini have December off before they compete against Arkansas at home Jan. 7.

“It’s nice to have a month off of competition play to be able to rest up before we enter the second half of the season,” Illinois swimming assistant coach Alec Hayden said. “But there’s still plenty of work to be done and lots of room for improvement over the break for us.”

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