Illinois swim & dive wins in-state tri-meet, falls to Vanderbilt


Cameron Krasucki

Lauren Partridge and Cara Bognar chat during Illinois’ Orange and Blue meet on Oct. 9. The Illini beat Southern Illinois and Illinois State on Friday before falling to Vanderbilt on Saturday.

By Jonathan Alday, Staff Writer

The Illini looked to finish their October meets strong with back-to-back swim contests.

The team first headed to Carbondale on Friday to face off against the Illinois State Redbirds and the Southern Illinois Salukis. 

The Illini had a close loss to start off the meet in the 200-yard medley, spearheaded by freshman Molly Yetter, juniors Athena Salafatinos and Divya Kale and senior Abby Cabush.

This strong performance was followed by sophomore Cara Bognar and Laurel Bludgen winning in the 1,000-yard freestyle (10:16.65) and 50-yard freestyle (23.91), respectively. 

Illinois divers also stood out with strong performances in the one-meter and three-meter dives. Sophomore Taylor Michael won the three-meter dive (262.35), a personal best. They also received a personal best in the one-meter dive (264.10).

Sophomore Allison Landis also received a personal best score in their one-meter dive win (268.05). That score qualified them for the NCAA Zone C for their first time.

With three more events, the Illini were down 124-120 to the Salukis. The Illini finished the next two events with a third-place finish by junior Isabelle Guerra in the 100-yard butterfly, while freshman Sydney Stoll (2:04.76) and Bognar (2:06.20) placed second and third in the 200-yard individual medley. 

Illinois concluded the meet with a win in the 400-yard medley (3:27.85), led by Bludgen, Yetter, Cabush and sophomore Lily Olson, sealing the win.

“It was a whole team effort; the divers did amazing on the boards,” said head coach Sue Novitsky. “We’re starting to see those changes more consistently.”

Against the Redbirds and Salukis, 23 Illinois athletes placed in the top three throughout the 14 swimming events, accenting the growth of the team. The Illini also had divers win both of their respective events.

The Illini handedly beat the Redbirds (225-74) and beat the Salukis (155-144).

Illinois celebrated, heading back to Champaign with two more experience-gaining wins under their belts. Their next challenge came soon after, as they headed to Nashville on Saturday to take on a new competitor, the Vanderbilt Commodores, for the first time in program history.

The Illini started off strong with back-to-back podium finishes in the 200-yard medley (1:44.87) by Salafatinos, Kale, Cabush and Bludgen and in the 1,000-yard freestyle by Stoll (10:26.39) and senior Sidney Kennedy (10:30.34).

The next four events included three first-place finishes by Cabush in the 200-yard freestyle (1:51.07), Kale in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:05.21) and Bognar in the 200-yard butterfly (2:01.87).

With two meets left, the Illini found themselves in a close competition with Vanderbilt leading 115-113.

Stoll put every last ounce of their strength in the 100-yard individual medley, winning and breaking the school record (57.37), previously set (57.66) by Samantha Stratford in 2017. 

Stoll’s win set the stage for the final event: the 200-yard freestyle relay. A win in this event would hand the Illini the hard-fought victory, capping off a spectacular month of competition. 

Instead, the meet ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Illini as they came short by 0.15 seconds on a strong effort led by Olson, Yetter, Bludgen and Cabush. The meet ended 134-128, a win for the Commodores. 

“We don’t feel pity for ourselves that we had to travel or we were tired,” Novitsky said. “We got ourselves going and just kept fighting back and that’s what you want. To see them put together 40 season-best times against SIU and ISU, it shows promise. They’re swimming faster, putting things together and that’s where we want to be, getting a bit better each and every week.”

Though it was not the ending the team hoped for, there was no quit in the Illini, as they fought until the end in a grueling month of competition. Their spirit, positivity and energy were unmatched as the Illini were seen singing and smiling back home via the team’s Instagram.

“I think we’re in a good spot,” Novistky said. “Everyone is coming into practice and is willing to work hard. That is good to see.”

Illinois heads into its three-week break 4-2. The Illini’s next contest is the House of Champions invitational in Indianapolis on Nov. 18-20.



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