Wildcats dominate weekend

Michael Griffin

A battle theme from the movie “Gladiator” blasted over the loudspeakers during an intermission at Northwestern’s meet against Michigan State on Friday. It was a fitting tune: The Wildcats (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) outlasted the Spartans to win 129-111 in the Big Ten showdown.

It was NU’s second conference victory and its first Big Ten home meet at Sports Pavilion and Aquatics Center this season.

Any rust remaining on the shoulders of NU swimmers from nearly two months of not competing was quickly shaken off as the Cats’ 200-meter medley relay team took first in the meet’s opening event with a time of 1:31.22.

The rest of the team followed suit with six consecutive first-place finishes. NU took first place in nine of the 13 events, with seniors Mark Hamming and Dan Williams posting two wins each.

“I was really happy with the way our guys swam today, ” coach Bob Groseth said. “We had some great intensity and took charge of the races.”

NU swimmers may not have been next to each other because of the staggered lane assignments, but the Cats repeatedly touched the wall one after the other. The 1-2 punches of junior Matt Wever and senior Steven Petric in the 200 freestyle and senior Shelby Clark and sophomore Ben Dexter in the 50 free kept the Spartans’ large roster at bay.

The first- and second-place points were crucial for the Cats because they did not have as many swimmers as the Spartans and had to give up third- through fifth-place points in some races.

The disparity in roster numbers was especially apparent in the diving competition. Sophomore Mike Oxman was NU’s only diver, while the Spartans (1-5, 0-3) had three. But Oxman took first in the three-meter springboard competition with a score of 295.05.

The Cats were a perfect five for five in the individual freestyle events, highlighted by a scorching performance from freshman Matt Grevers in the 100 with a time of 44.40. The 100 free is a dead sprint, but Grevers still managed to finish three seconds ahead of Wever, his closest competitor.

NU went back to work Saturday and swept its tri-dual meet, beating Illinois-Chicago 156-82 and Eastern Michigan 138.5-105.5.

The scoreboard reflected an easy victory for the Cats, but Groseth said he thought his team did not swim as well as it had the previous day.

“The guys kept the intensity level up, but we struggled a bit more today in terms of displaying speed,” Groseth said. “We raced really well and were aggressive but still need to get better.”

NU kicked things off with a first-place finish in the 400 medley relay and claimed first in every individual event. Grevers had the crowd buzzing again on Saturday with an easy victory in the 200 backstroke. His 1:46.98 destroyed the previous pool record of 1:47.49.

As a whole, Groseth said he was pleased with his team’s weekend performances. But the coach emphasized that there’s still a lot of work ahead.

“Even though the guys swam better than I expected this weekend, we’re obviously not satisfied,” Groseth said. “We can still improve on the details of our swimming, like starts and turns.

“If we’re not on our game in a couple weeks, Michigan will run us out of our own pool.”