Men’s Swimming: Wildcats overcome early adversity, beat Hilltoppers

John Paschall, Assistant Gameday Editor

Adversity was dripping along Northwestern’s side of the pool after its first race Friday against Western Kentucky.

Coach Jarod Schroeder gambled and put senior Chase Stephens, who was scheduled to swim three other freestyle events later, in the relay hoping to guarantee an early victory for the Wildcats. But even though NU posted tremendous splits in the 400-yard medley relay, the plan backfired as Western Kentucky’s top group picked up a win and set a pool record in the process. Yet when pushed up against the wall, the young Cats fought back and ground out a 161-139 finish over the Hilltoppers.

“I like the way they responded after we lost a race we were expecting to win,” Schroeder said. “That’s something they haven’t done well in the past. Western Kentucky is a lot deeper team than I gave them credit for. I thought they swam really well and they wanted to win the meet. But I was happy with the way my guys took on the challenge.”

Following the loss in the first event, sophomore Jordan Wilimovsky silenced a loud Bowling Green, Ky., crowd when he won the 1,000-yard freestyle event by more than 9 seconds. His time of 9:18.09 was especially impressive because Wilimovsky was not able to go below 9:20.64 all of last year.

Stephens said having Wilimovsky follow up that relay with a blowout win was huge motivation for the team.

“He’s a stone cold shooter,” he said. “He’s a really good racer and competitor. His leadership in the next couple of years is definitely going to be looked after by the other guys coming in.”

Stephens rebounded from the loss in the medley by snagging a win in the 200-yard freestyle. The Cats then out-touched the Hilltoppers in the next two events, the 100-yard backstroke and 100-yard breaststroke, by .03 seconds in each race.

But Stephens wasn’t done. He left his mark at the Bill Powell Natatorium when he set a pool record in the 50-yard freestyle and later won the stroke at double the distance.

Freshman Charlie Cole has earned the praise of his teammates and coach after two meets. He’s had the difficult task of trying to keep up with the speedy Wilimovsky in practice, but the results have been all positive. Cole finished behind his sophomore counterpart in the 500-yard freestyle and third in the 1,000-yard freestyle on Friday.

Wilimovsky said the team tried to instill a positive attitude among its younger swimmers, who dealt with their first taste of adversity in college.

“When we go out there, we can’t let one bad swim change the way everyone else races,” he said. “We just have to stay positive and keep having good swims no matter what.”

After having a week off, NU will head to West Lafayette, Ind., to face Purdue and Ohio State. The Cats have not beaten a Big Ten team since early 2011 when they pulled out a victory against Wisconsin. Wilimovsky said it will be great to face some of the best swimmers in the conference early in the season.

“I always want to race people who are fast,” he said. “If we can beat them there, we can beat them at Big Tens.”

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