Illini swimming sets new records and makes history against Kansas

By Michal Dwojak

Record times and top performances propelled the Illinois swimming and diving team to a win against Kansas on Saturday.

“I thought we had a really nice meet from start to finish,” head coach Sue Novitsky said. “We had some really outstanding swims throughout the meet, and we had a strong showing in each and every event.”

Junior Alison Meng contributed to the Illini’s 186-114 win with two first place finishes. Meng set a pool record in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 55.79 seconds, erasing the previous pool record she set in 2012 (56.25 seconds). She also finished first in the 100 butterfly with a time of (56.35). Meng now has seven event victories in the season, matching the total amount she had last year.

The Illini’s freshmen have helped them throughout the season, and this weekend, it was Gabbie Stecker’s turn. Stecker won the 1000 freestyle with a time 10:13.77, which placed her 10th on Illinois’ all-time top-10 individuals list. She also won the 500 free (4:58.71), earning her fourth event victory in her collegiate career.

The Illini’s relay teams set new pool records to start the meet. The 400-medley relay team of Meng, Courtney Pope, Erica Lynn, and Sarah Sykstus set the tone with a pool record time of 3:49.94. The previous record of 3:50.62 was set in 1996.

Illinois also ended the meet with a pool-record time. The 200 free relay of Pope, Meng, Jessica Holz and Megan Marchuk finished with a time of 1:34.81, erasing the previous record (1:35.00) set last year by Pope, Meng, Marchuk, and then-senior Kimberly Kalenda.

“We all just knew what we needed to get done,” Meng said. “We were aware again, we were in the meet, cheering for each other and encouraging each other to work hard.”

The Illini won 11 of the 14 events. The last time Illinois faced Kansas in a dual meet, in 2011, the Jayhawks won 174.5-118.5.

Pope and Meng accounted for four of those 11 event victories. Each swimmer has seven event victories this season which ties for the team lead, encouraging other Illini, such as freshmen Amelia Schilling and Stecker, to have dominant performances as freshmen. 

The team will now have a month away from competition, as its next meet will be the multiday Miami (Ohio) Invitational on Dec. 5. This break from competition will not result in a break in intensity at practice. The swimmers have mentioned the past few weeks that practices have been very hard, but Novistky guaranteed her team that practice and attention to detail will be heightened the next month, as they look toward the rest of the season.

“We are in good position in terms of how fast we are swimming,” Nowitsky said. “We’re staying healthy, we’re staying consistent, and we’re seeing those improvements week in and week out.”

Michal can be reached at [email protected] and @bennythebull94.