Swimming and diving focus for Big Ten Championships

Week in and week out, staying focused has been a struggle for the Illinois swimming and diving team. And now facing its biggest meet of the season in the four-day, seven-session long Big Ten Championships beginning Wednesday at Purdue University, maintaining its focus is essential to performing well.

Head coach Sue Novitsky believes that the responsibility for keeping the team focused falls not only on the coaches but on the individual athletes as well.

“It’s a little bit of both. It’s up to (the coaches) to remind them every session to stay focused, to relax and eat the right food,” Novitsky said. “But, it’s up to them to help each other out. And they need to know it’s important to keep the focus on yourself, not on what everyone else is doing.”

At last year’s meet the Illini finished in last place, and with six of the 11 teams at this year’s meet being ranked in the top 25, finishing any higher will be a challenge.

“As a team we have the potential to move up a few spots,” Novitsky said. “We just need to put together a complete meet.”

Because this meet is the largest and by far the longest the Illini have competed in this season, Novitsky hopes the athletes can handle the physical and mental exhaustion.

“It’s pretty challenging,” Novitsky said. “There’s a potential chance of having to swim 10 races in a short span, it’s tough.”

The older, more experienced swimmers have the distinct advantage of knowing what to prepare for and how to prepare mentally.

“By now I’ve done enough swim meets that I know you get tired,” senior swimmer Amy Forsberg said. “You just have to push through it, but usually it’s fun so you don’t focus on being tired.”

After more than a month of having meets every weekend, the Illini got last weekend off to get a little extra rest before this week’s Championship meet. On top of getting last weekend off, both the swimming and diving coaches have been slowly reducing the practice workload in the past few weeks in order to give the team a little extra energy boost.

“It always helps, they usually get a little crazier, a little louder,” Novitsky said. “It’s always good, it may drive you a little crazy, but it’s always good.”

By giving the team extra rest Novitsky thinks some of the swimmers who haven’t performed their best this year will step up and put together a solid meet.

“We have some people who are ready to have those breakout performances and be in the moment and not get overwhelmed,” Novitsky said.

While this will be the Illini’s biggest and most important meet of the season thus far, the format of the meet isn’t entirely new to them.

“It’s pretty similar to the Miami Invitational,” Novitsky said. “On Wednesday night there are two relays, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday it is a prelim-final format. The top 24 from the morning (prelim) get a second swim that night.”

In order to prepare for each day’s events, and to try to curb the fatigue, the team goes through a morning routine similar to the one it does before most big meets.

“We do a wake-up swim, then breakfast then prelim’s at 11,” junior swimmer Corey Kasten said. “It may be tiring but generally we’re well prepared. It’s what we’ve been preparing for all year.”