Splash Bash a competitive start to Illini swimming season

The conclusion of last year’s swimming season didn’t go as the Illini planned. Illinois finished last in the Big Ten, and this year the team hopes for a different outcome.

“We’re not happy being last in the Big Ten, so one of the things we’re talking about is, ‘If we want to move up in the Big Ten, what do we need to do?’” head coach Sue Novitsky said. “It’s small steps, but every year we’re adding people and improving.”

Novitsky thinks the team has potential to move up in the standings by the end of the season.

Senior Brittany McGowan wants more than that.

She’s hoping Illinois is represented at the national meet in her final season.

Last year, she narrowly missed the cut.

Novitsky said McGowan is a senior who stands out as a leader and someone she can count on.

“I look to her,” Novitsky said. “She’s one that I know I can go to in a situation and say, ‘Hey Brit, this is what I need. Can you get it for us?’ She’s willing to put that effort out there for the team.”

The Illini have had more time than usual to prepare this season, which starts two weeks later than normal.

Now, the swimmers are more than ready to return to the pool said senior April McKee.

“I am so excited to compete, we’ve been putting in so much hard work these past few weeks and we’re so pumped to compete,” McKee said. “In practice you swim so many laps and it’s a little hard to stay focused. Racing, it’s just see what you can do, and it’s adrenaline and it’s really fun.”

The Illini open their season Friday in a dual meet against Northwestern at the ARC at 3 p.m. The meet doubles as Splash Bash and is one of two home swimming meets.

“Splash Bash is a fun time and it’s great to support woman athletics,” McGowan said.

Illinois has not swam in a dual meet against Northwestern since 2004, and Novitsky is looking forward to the extra challenge the meet brings, hoping it will add to the swimmers’ intensity level.

“Northwestern is ahead of us in the conference standings, and it’s a great chance for us to put ourselves in a competitive situation right in the start of the season,” Novitsky said.

“I hope we pack the stands and really give Northwestern something to think about when we’re here and have that home-crowd advantage.”

Novitsky thinks the extra time to prepare has helped the team.

“This is a great quality group,” Novitsky said. “We’re a little odd at times but that’s OK, that’s our thing. They really like to work together and they respect the work each other is putting in.”

Novitsky said everyone has become stronger during the season, particularly the freshmen.

“Their first day in the weight room they squatted with a stick,” Novitsky said. “Now a lot of those girls are up to 135 pounds squatting. They’ve really been focused, and I think part of it is, ‘I don’t want to squat with a stick, I can do better.’”

It’s the added strength and focus that Novitsky thinks will propel the Illini this season to higher standings.

“I’m excited to see what we can do,” McGowan said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”