Swimming coach pleased with team’s effort

By Meghan Montemurro

The classic “ILL-INI” chant could be heard throughout the University Aquatic Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as the swimmers and divers of the Illinois women’s swim team created an energized atmosphere with the help of their families and fans.

At the end a three-day, six-session Big Ten Championship, each day consisting of preliminaries and finals, the Illinois women’s swimming and diving team came in ninth place.

Despite the ninth-place standing, head coach Sue Novitsky was pleased with the complete meet the team put together along with the effort and focus the Illini gave. In the end, Novitsky was happy her team gave everything it had, though she had hoped Illinois would have finished higher up in the standings.

“In terms of team placing, we would have liked to move up, but we can’t control what the other teams do and who they have on the team and how they perform,” Novitsky said. “We have to come in and have to focus on ourselves.”

Sophomore Ali Keehn was proud of how the Illini came together as a team, particularly the late push her team made to try to catch Ohio State on the last day of races. Overall, Keehn said the team swam very well and believes they swam better than last year.

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Illinois faced stiff competition at the meet, competing with five Big Ten teams – Indiana, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin and Minnesota – ranked in the Top 25.

In the 100-meter fly, Keehn set both a career-best time and the eighth fastest time in Illinois school history. Similar success continued throughout the weekend as most of the Illini swimmers had at least a season-best time, if not a career-best.

This rang true for Meghan Bradley, a junior, who had a season-best time in the 200-meter individual medley. Bradley said the key to improving one’s time is the work put in.

“You work hard all season to get to that one moment; you swim out of your mind,” Bradley said. “It’s just hard work and everything else put together.”

Bradley has had a set of obstacles to overcome this season, mainly due to shoulder surgery. Only being able to train three out of six months, Bradley said she was at a bit of a disadvantage, but gave it her all and was happy with the end results.

One goal Illinois set before the start of the Big Ten Championship was to be the best team on deck, between cheering on teammates and interacting with the fans. Keehn said everyone tried to be as loud as they could to cheer each other on. Keehn felt they definitely accomplished the goal the team had set.

A key to not only Illinois’ success at the Big Ten Championship but throughout the season was the leadership of the seniors and the team captains, Caroline Moore, Becca Poetz and Jackie Bain.

“This year we had the best leadership I have ever seen on this team in my three years of being here,” Bradley said. “Our captains and our seniors were awesome.”

The Big Ten Championship meet was the last team event of the year. However, the Last Chance Meet next week provides an opportunity for both individuals and relay teams to qualify for the NCAA Championship.

Novitsky said she plans on sending the 200-meter relay team, consisting of Barbie Viney, Meghan Farrell, Michelle Grandcolas and Poetz, who are ranked 10th in the nation. Her goal is to see if they can get faster and improve their time and chances to go to the NCAA Championship in early March.

This year the Big Ten Championship boasted some of the faster times in recent swimming history. Novitsky said most events were much faster and had more depth than in previous years. This has led to the need for the teams to come in right away and start off fast in order to do well in the preliminaries and be able to advance.

“It was very deep and a very fast meet overall,” Novitsky said. “It’s exciting; you want to be in a conference that’s going to challenge you and help make you better.”

Novitsky said she was impressed with senior Caroline Moore. She said Moore had a terrific meet, dropping three seconds off her time while showing her leadership. Novitsky nominated Moore as the school’s Big Ten Sportsmanship nominee.

Another senior, Viney, qualified for the NCAA Championship with an “A” cut in the 100-meter freestyle. Viney was also named to the 2007 All-Big Ten team.

With the season at its end, the bonds made throughout the year are what the swimmers will remember and take away from the season the most.

Bradley said this season has been her most memorable and fun year yet and has her excited for next season. However, the seniors will be missed.

“We had a banquet after the Big Ten meet and I said to them, ‘You guys were our mothers, our sisters and our best friends,'” Bradley said. “‘You are people to look up to,’ and they make this whole six months worthwhile.”