Illini of the Week: Cabush etches name into history books at Big Ten Championships
March 4, 2021
Everything about the world was up in the air. Coaches were fighting to keep their team’s spirits up, and athletes were training without any indication of when they would be able to compete again. Without any timetable for a return, the women’s swim and dive team had no idea if they would even have a season or get a chance to showcase their skills.
Once they did get the clearance to compete this season, the team’s main concern was making the most of their opportunity. After the Illini finished the regular season with a 1-3 recorded and advanced to the 2021 Big Ten Championships, junior Abigail Cabush, along with many others, entered the playoffs having already broken previous records. This weekend, Cabush and the Illini etched their names into the history books after the team finished in 12th place with 177 points.
“One of the bigger things this year was we all set our own goals, and we all had accountability partners,” Cabush said. “At this meet, my partner was Isabelle Guerra. We all talked about each of our events and what we wanted to do. Then, we symbolized when we achieved goals with a sticker board, like there were different stickers for the accountability goals and best times.”
The tactic was simple, but after the team broke 40 personal records and recorded nine new all-time school records, their sticker board filled up.
During the third day of playoff action, Cabush qualified for the finals with a time of 1:47.80 and broke her previous 200-yard freestyle school record — 1:47.90 — which she set earlier in the season on Feb. 6. Her preliminary time once again broke the previous 200-yard freestyle school record of 1:47.96, which was set on Feb. 8, 2007, by Barbie Viney.
“At the conclusion of that race, I was most excited about being able to come and be able to make it back that same day for a night swim to score some points,” Cabush said. “It was so exciting to look up into stands when I finished, and my teammates were giving me two thumbs up after I asked if it was a good swim. … It was cool to see all the hard work we put in this year be paid off, and we saw it with tangible results.”
The Sussex, Wisconsin, native was one of two Illini swimmers that qualified for the finals, and she even managed to set a new personal record in the 50-yard freestyle the day before with a time of 23.49.
Freshman Cara Bognar, the other qualifying Illini swimmer, headed to the finals with a time of 4:18.70 in the 400-yard individual medleys preliminary and praised Cabush’s leadership and impact on making others on the team feel welcome.
“Abby is one of the most amazing leaders and teammates I could have ever wished for,” Bognar said. “In a way, she is one of the people on the team that I look up to the most. Her leadership has inspired me to become not just a better swimmer, but an overall better person.”
As the only upperclassman on the relay, Cabush managed to record the fourth fastest 200-yard medley relay time in school history with sophomore Athena Salafatinos, sophomore Divya Kale, and freshman Lily Olson with their time of 1:41.19 during the first day of competition.
Cabush and her teammates in the 200-yard freestyle and the 400-yard freestyle relay — Olson, freshman Laurel Bludgen and senior Emma Curtis — also managed to set the fastest time by the Illini in both events all season with times of 1:32.49 and 3:23.75, respectively.
While Cabush’s records will leave a lasting impression of her phenomenal time with the team, she remains hopeful about the success she and the team will continue to have during her remaining years for the Illini. The number of underclassmen that stepped up to the plate during this year’s championships is something that excites Cabush about the future of the program.
“We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores that are really buying into the team culture and that are really excited to swim,” Cabush said. “It’s really cool to see that we did well this year, but next year we can be even better. … I know the team is going to be in good hands, because we have so many underclassmen that love to step up and swim fast.”