Illinois swimming wraps up regular season with a loss to Arkansas

By Drake Pena

No. 22 Arkansas has been strong all season long. The Razorbacks ended their season with a 9-1 record in the SEC — a conference that has 10 of its 14 schools ranked in the top-25 teams in the country, including No. 1 Georgia.

Head Coach Sue Novitsky acknowledged the success that Arkansas had this season, in addition to her satisfaction with her team’s performance, especially against its first ranked opponent.

“We definitely faced the strongest team in a dual meet this season,” Novitsky said. “Arkansas is a tough and deep team and they showed why they are (highly ranked) in the country. I was happy to see us not back down from the challenge.”

For the first time this dual season, the Illini were not able to capture an event victory on the day. The Razorbacks captured first place in all 16 events, ending the meet with a winning score of 187-101 in their home pool.

Illinois was able to put up points with its 11 second-place finishes, including three in the first five events of the meet.

Although the team experienced one of it rougher meets of the season, Novitsky was proud of her squad for their resilience throughout the meet, believing that her athletes embody the true spirit of what a team really is.

“At the start, we talked about our strength as a team and one of those is that we are infinitely better when we have each other’s back and stay together,” Novitsky said. “That definitely shined through on the relays, where people put it on the line and raced all the way to the wall for their teammates.

The loss gives the Illini their third consecutive to end their campaign. Losses to conference rivals Iowa and Nebraska, in addition to Saturday’s defeat, give the team a rocky end to what was otherwise a good season compared to seasons past.

The team’s 8-4 record gives the team eights wins for the second time since 2000.

Strong performances from sophomore Samantha Stratford and freshmen Megan Vuong and Madeline Kuhn help to create a talented up and coming squad.

For now, however, the Illini will look to the Big Ten championships, which are a little over two weeks away. Novitsky plans to rest her team a bit after the long season and hopes that her team will be 100 percent and ready to go come tournament time.

“Now that we are finished with our dual meets it is time to turn our full focus to preparing for the Big Ten Championships,” Novitsky said. “We are a little beat up and the opportunity to rest will definitely help us in the next couple of weeks.”

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