Sentimental Senior Day celebrations not enough to help muster win over Nebraska


The Daily Illini File Photo

llinois’ Gabbie Stecker swims the 100 yard butterfly event during the meet against Nebraska at the ARC on Jan. 24, 2015. Stecker competed in her last home meet as an Illini this weekend.

By Erich Fisher, Staff writer

It was an emotional scene before the start of Saturday’s Illinois swim and dive meet when seniors Audrey Rodawig, Amelia Schilling and Gabbie Stecker received their bouquets of flowers.

Tears soon became noticeable from the three seniors as each one came to the realization that Saturday’s meet against Nebraska would be the last time they’d look in the stands and see home fans at the ARC pool in Champaign.

“We came in wanting to make a statement,” Stecker said. “We knew this was going to be a tough meet but we wanted to come out with a bang and I think we did that.”

The three seniors made their presence known early on in the meet. Stecker and Rodawig swam impressive splits in the 200-yard medley to help give the Illini the event, while Amelia Schilling won the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:51.25.

Nebraska did not let its slow start get to them, recovering by winning the next three events.

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Rodawig helped the Illini climb back into contention, securing a victory in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 24.13 seconds.

Rodawig said that it was very important for her to perform well in the competition, knowing that this was her last meet.

“We’re just so fortunate to be here and be a part of this team and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” said Rodawig.

However, since Nebraska took the top three spots in the 10-meter diving category, Illinois found themselves facing a 84-66 deficit — silencing the crowd and possibly any momentum the Illini may have gotten after Rodawig’s victory.

“I thought we were good, I knew we were going to have to weather some storms,” said Illinois Head Coach Sue Novitsky. “A lot of it was going to come down to depth, we had kids sick and some injured so we knew we were going to have to step up.”

Momentum was on Nebraska’s side come the start of the second half of the meet. The Cornhuskers edged out the Illini in the 100-yard freestyle and 200-yard backstroke and breaststroke events.

Once again, one of the three seniors would step up to end the Illini’s drought, this time Schilling won the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 5:00.09. Sophomore Megan Vuong gave Illinois back-to-back wins by taking the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 55.71.

“Emotions were high, but it made it really exciting and a successful meet,” Schilling said.

Diving continued to be the Illini’s weak point of the meet. The Cornhuskers defeated the Illini in the 1-meter dive. Nebraska was leading Illinois 154-110 going into the last two events of the meet.

The Illini won the last two events of meet with Junior Samantha Stratford touching the wall first in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 2:05.35. The combination of Rodawig, Gabrielle Bethke, Vuong and Schilling set a new pool record, finishing first in the 400-yard freestyle relay with a time of 3:27.05.

Despite winning the final two events, it wasn’t enough for the Illini to overcome the Cornhuskers, losing 169-131 and finishing the regular season 7-5.

The Illini will be out of the pool until Feb. 15 when they compete in the Big Ten Championship.

While the meet marks the end of the regular season for the Illini, this particular meet meant a lot more to the seniors who will never step back into the ARC pool for competition as an Illini.

“It’s been awesome, these girls have been like a second family to me, and I love each one of them so much,” said Schilling. “We’re so sad to leave. These last four years have been amazing.

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