Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Season ends with a ring

INDIANAPOLIS — Amy Balcerzak doesn’t remember much from her final collegiate awards ceremony at the NCAA Championships.

The handshake for her sixth-place finish, the sight of Georgia star Kristy Kowal winning her third trophy and the sound of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” in the background are only a blur in Balcerzak’s mind.

And despite the Cats’ sixth-place overall finish — the best-ever for NU — Balcerzak had other things on her mind. All the shell-shocked senior could do was stare through the tears in her eyes at the sparkling ring on her finger — and smile.

Moments after touching the wall at the end of the 200-meter breaststroke, Balcerzak was summoned by a media runner to the press room, a converted weight training center at the rear of the Indiana University Natatorium. The runner said a publication had requested an interview.

As a confused Balcerzak sat waiting at the media podium, her longtime boyfriend, Chris Field, emerged from behind the curtain, got down on one knee and proposed.

“I knew right when I saw him,” Balcerzak said. “We know each other too well.”

When Balcerzak left the media room for the awards ceremony, she immediately ran into Northwestern coach Jimmy Tierney and informed him of the news. Next to know was fellow senior and good friend Courtney Allen, who thought Balcerzak was upset because her NU career was over. Allen realized what had transpired when she embraced Balcerzak and was cut on the arm by the engagement ring.

Then the floodgates opened.

“Oh my god, I bawled like a baby,” Allen said.

Balcerzak actually predicted the proposal while talking with Allen in the team hotel the night before. She had been expecting Field, her boyfriend of more than two years, to take the plunge for quite a long time.

“I was saying that if he was smart, he would propose tonight after NCAAs, and low and behold, he did,” Balcerzak said. “I predicted it.”

The proposal only added to the Wildcats’ excitement, as they edged Southern California to place sixth with 186.5 points. Georgia swam away from the competition for the second straight year, totalling 490.5 points to top runner-up Arizona.

NU (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten) was highest among Big Ten schools and jumped three spots from last year’s finish despite taking only nine swimmers to Indianapolis. NU squashed both Michigan and Minnesota, the two teams who had defeated the Cats at the Big Ten Championships one month earlier in the same pool.

“There was a lot of respect earned across the conference and the whole country with this team because we have a small group at this level compared with these top-10 teams,” Tierney said. “It was a power-packed effort by our group.”

The NU contingent was led once again by seniors Balcerzak and Allen. On the first night of competition, Allen had a strong runner-up finish in the 50 freestyle and swam in the 200 free and 400 medley relays. Both relay squads placed in the top five, earning valuable points for the team.

The second night belonged to Balcerzak as she used a burst of speed in the final 25 meters of the 100 breast to tie for second with California freshman Staciana Stitts. Their shared time of 1:06.79 was second only to Kowal’s new American record of 1:05.74.

NU’s senior leadership shined through in both the individual events and the relays, where Dominique Diezi, Allyson Bowman and Brianne Fowles aided the Cats in their final college competition.

With their collegiate careers over, the class of 2000 left behind an unparalleled legacy at NU.

“I just hope they (younger swimmers) learn from my example,” Allen said. “Amy and I approach situations the same and I hope they learn from both of us, the way we look at swimming as a part of our lives, something we really respect as a part of our lives and something we love to be a part of our lives.”

For Susie Sample, the one freshman on NU’s NCAA roster, competing with the seniors this season has been an unforgettable experience.

“I definitely look at them as role models and people I look to aspire to achieve the same level that they have,” Sample said. “I’m so glad I was able to come in this year and meet them and learn everything that I have from them.”

Added Tierney: “It’s like I’m ready to lose a lot of my own daughters.”

Many of the seniors will look ahead to graduation and Olympic Trials this summer — as well as Balcerzak’s wedding.

“Finishing my college career, I thought I would be crying for that reason, but I’m not; I’m very happy to be done,” Balcerzak said. “I love Jimmy, I love Sonya (Porter, assistant coach), but it is time to move on, so you close one door and open another.”

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Season ends with a ring