Men’s Swimming: Northwestern braces to battle top-notch Big Ten foes

John Paschall, Assistant Gameday Editor

To be the best, you have to beat the best.

That’s Northwestern’s mission when it travels to face Purdue and Ohio State on Friday.

The Buckeyes come in to the meet ranked eighth in the country, while the Boilermakers are 19th, according to Last year, the two teams sent a combined 20 swimmers and divers to the NCAA Championships, although the Wildcats sent only two.

Iowa will also compete at the meet but will not be scored against NU because the two teams face off later in the year.

The Cats glided through their first two meets, beating Eastern Michigan and Western Kentucky. As the competition stiffens, senior Chase Stephens said he believes the team will have to hold tight to the confidence it established early in the season.

“When we go into an opposing Big Ten pool or they come into ours, it’s about making sure we believe we can beat them no matter what their times are or how many people they have on their team,” Stephens said. “It’s something I’m trying to personally instill on the guys.”

Stephens will have his hands full in the 100-yard freestyle event with Purdue’s Danny Tucker, a Naperville, Ill., native who won the US Open Championship in the 100-yard freestyle event over the summer. But if this year’s times are any indicator, the event will come down to the wire. In 2013, Tucker’s best 100-yard freestyle time of 45.09 is only .51 seconds better than Stephens’ top mark this season. When the men hit the blocks on Friday, Stephens said he’ll be ready for the challenge.

“You know what’s happening,” he said. “You know what they go. You know what you go. It’s a matter of stepping up to the plate.”

Energy will be key for the Cats on the road. Junior freestyler Andrew Seitz said the team has already shown it can be resilient but it needs to continue against better competition.

“We’ve put a big emphasis this year on not losing two races in a row,” he said. “We just want to keep energy and positivity on the pool deck and make sure everyone is cheering. Those are some things that we are doing no matter where we are in the meet.”

Coach Jarod Schroeder said his focus will be not as much on winning events, but rather on how his team handles racing against some of the top swimmers in the country.

“In the past, we’ve swam against these teams that are on paper better than us,” Schroeder said. “We’ve beat ourselves before we even began the race. I want to see us step up to the challenge. If we lose some close races, that’s fine as long as we are competitive and we don’t give it to them before we step up to compete.”

After their races with Big Ten foes, NU will travel back to the Chicago area to face UIC and Wyoming on Saturday. It will be a difficult travel schedule for the Cats, who will hopefully arrive back from West Lafayette, Ind., late in the evening, only to wake up the next morning and drive to downtown Chicago for another competition.

Even though Wyoming may not be the competitive level that Purdue and Ohio State pose, Schroeder said his team won’t be sleeping on Saturday’s competitors.

“Wyoming will be no easy task for us,” he said. “They’re going to be a pretty formidable opponent.”

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