Men’s Swimming: Northwestern rediscovers its swagger

John Paschall, Reporter

Somewhere deep down at the bottom of the pool in the Norris Aquatics Center you will find the men’s swimming and diving team’s swagger from last year. They forgot to bring it with them to the Big Ten Championships last year in Iowa, and it cost them dearly.

But after spending an entire off-season reliving the harsh memories of last season’s conclusion, they are determined to dive deep to regain that swagger they once had.

Senior Charlie Rimkus noticed the lack of confidence and has made an effort to emphasize the importance in the off-season. Rimkus and his teammates have enforced a policy to make sure they are more vocal around the pool whether it’s encouragement or critique. When the Cats swim as well as they are capable of, he doesn’t see why NU should back down to the Big Ten swimming powerhouses like Indiana.

“The confidence and swagger around the pool will be key,” Rimkus said. “Fake it till you make it even. If you’re not the most confident person, act like it. Not to say you should be arrogant or cocky, but hold your head high and understand that what we are doing in the pool is more impressive than a lot of other people.”

And Rimkus is not alone. Sophomore Uula Auren, who hates losing so much that he was only defeated twice the entire year in the 100-meter breaststroke, said he feels the Cats need a change of mentality.

“We are too humble,” Auren said. “We could use a little cockiness, but not too much.”

Auren will have to wait a while to kick off his sophomore campaign. The Finnish breaststroker tore his labrum in his right shoulder while lifting weights in the off-season and will miss potentially the first half of the season. Auren, who said he thinks he could be faster after this surgery, is itching to get back in the pool but doesn’t want to come back too soon. The training staff feels a safe target date for him to return would be Jan. 16 at Milwaukee, but depending on his rehab, he could be racing in meets sooner.

The Cats kick off their season on Friday in Ypsilanti, Mich., to face Eastern Michigan, a team that came on strong at the end of last year.

Here’s a deeper look into the potential impact swimmers to keep an eye on for NU this year:

Biggest leap:

Mark Ferguson

The Australian fly/backstroke specialist went home to Australia this summer, and as coach Jarod Schroeder put it, “Everything just clicked for him.” Now that Ferguson has settled in following his freshman year, his consistency in practice has been noticeable and crucial. His backstroke has become so strong that he is now able to give some freestylers a run for their money.

“He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with,” senior Alex Ratajczyk said. “He’s definitely put some questions into the freestylers’ minds about how he is able to do that.”

Strongest stoke of the team:

Backstroke

The Cats now have a team on paper that no longer has any glaring weakness. Depth was a major issue for last year’s squad, but with the emergence of swimmers like Ferguson, NU feels confident that even if it doesn’t win a particular race, it could finish second and third. But if there is one stroke the Cats feel extremely confident in, it’s the backstroke. Ferguson joins a now-veteran group of junior Dominik Cubelic and senior Varun Shivakumar. Add on freshman Grant Halsall, the 16th overall ranked recruit in the 2012 class who is also the fastest 18-and-under backstroker in Great Britain, and you’ve got a potentially devastating lineup.

“We can really hit you in the backstroke,” Auren said. “Dom won a lot of meets last year, but now I don’t even know if he’s going to beat Grant.”

Freshman to watch:

Jordan Wilimovsky

This freshman class, ranked 16th in the nation by Collegeswimming.com, is ready to make an impact immediately in Evanston. But out of all of them, Wilimovsky has earned the most outstanding reviews so far. The distance swimmer from Malibu, Calif., has been turning heads throughout training. That shouldn’t be a surprise considering he won the 1,500-meter freestyle in open water at the USA Swimming Junior National meet this summer. He even had Schroeder gushing over his potential.

“He’s been doing some spectacular things in practice,” Schroeder said. “He’s on track to be the best distance guy in Northwestern swimming history. He has the ability to break our school record in the 1,000-meter freestyle and the (1,560-meter freestyle) this year as a freshman. I trained here when the guy who currently has the record was swimming here, and Jordan can do things that he wasn’t able to do.”

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