Illinois swimming and diving finish up Big Ten Championship

By Daniel Collins

For a second-straight year, the Illinois swimming and diving team finished 12th at the Big Ten championships. But because of the increased size of the conference this year, 12th wasn’t last.

This season, despite finishing with 73 points — six fewer than last year — the Illini topped Michigan State, avoiding a second-consecutive last-place finish. With the addition of Rutgers to the Big Ten, the field expanded from 12 to 13 teams.

The 12th-place finish included a few school records, especially in events the Illini have been successful in all season.

The four-day tournament began with the Illini breaking three school records in the first two events. The first two were set in the 200 medley relay, when a team of senior Alison Meng, freshman Gabrielle Bethke and juniors Isabella Schamber and Lori Lynn swam a time of 1:39.81. Meng’s 24.91 time in her 50-yard leg also broke her own school record.

The third came in another relay race — the 800 freestyle relay — swam by sophomores Gabbie Stecker, Amelia Schilling, freshman Samantha Stratford and senior Megan Marchuk.

Success in relay races has been commonplace for Illinois this year. In its 10 dual meets this season, the team has posted 12 relay wins, all of which included Meng.

Meng leading the way has been a theme for the team all season.

“Alison Meng was a warrior for us, competing on four relays and once again earning a finals swim in the 100 backstroke,” head coach Sue Novitsky said. “When (the team) comes together for a relay event, they find that next gear and put together some outstanding performances.”

Other notable achievements include record-setting performances by Lynn, Bethke and senior Hailey Booth in the 100 butterfly. Lynn’s time of 55.07 was the fastest performance of the three and ranks third in team history. Booth’s time was good enough for fifth on that list (55.46), and Bethke’s ranks 10th (55.98).

Moving up to ninth on Illinois’ all-time list in the backstroke event and 10th in 50 back was junior Sloane McDermott, who recorded times of 56.68 and 27.18, respectively.

On the diving boards, senior Erika Murphy posted the top time for Illinois with a score of 262.15 in the one-meter event on the second day of competition.

“Erika was a rock for the underclassmen,” Novitsky said.

Freshman diver Raquel Corniuk broke her own school record with a score of 254.85 during the preliminary stage.

The top three finishers were Minnesota (618.5), Indiana (591) and Michigan (478.5).

“The Big Ten Conference is probably the deepest conference in the country, and that leaves little room for error,” Novitsky said.

Daniel can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @collins_d2.