Men’s Swimming: Wildcats sink against Big Ten foes, rally for win on Saturday

John Paschall, Assistant Gameday Editor

It was a tale of two meets for Northwestern this weekend.

Friday saw a disappointing Wildcats squad put up a dud of a performance against Purdue and Ohio State, losing to both teams 231-69. Saturday displayed the resilient attitude the Cats hope to carry with them the entire year, as they took down Wyoming 161-137 and Illinois-Chicago 229-67.

Though some Cats cut seconds off their season best times, coach Jarod Schroeder said his team did not respond to the competition like he had hoped.

“Our guys folded like a deck of cards,” he said. “I’ve talked to them about stepping up in pressure situations, and they didn’t do it. I don’t know what it’s going to take for them. We’ve addressed this for years now. At some point it’s got to click for them.”

Sophomore Jordan Wilimovsky finished second in the 1,000-yard freestyle and third in the 500-yard freestyle on Friday. Considering NU has one of the smallest team in the Big Ten, Wilimovsky said it’s very noticeable when a few guys don’t have a good meet.

Senior Chase Stephens said there was definitely some shock after the first couple of races, but he has a lot of confidence that as the Wildcats improve, they can keep up with talented teams like the Boilermakers and Buckeyes.

“We shouldn’t be able to swim fast against only nonconference people,” he said. “We have to learn how to swim against those guys coming into the Big Ten Championships.”

NU had less than 24 hours to move on from the crushing loss and face an underrated Wyoming team and UIC in Chicago on Saturday.

After winning the first two events, Stephens and the Cats failed to finish in the top three in the 200-freestyle, an event that Stephens normally excels in.

But NU was able to show the mental toughness that appeared earlier in the season. The next race, the 100-yard backstroke, saw junior Mark Ferguson, freshman Andrew Jovanovic and senior Dominik Cubelic take the top three spots to right the ship for the Cats.

The race of the meet came later in the 500-yard freestyle. Wyoming’s Ethan Griffel started off the long distance event with a blistering pace. Wilimovsky and freshman Charlie Cole were able to keep pace but couldn’t snatch the lead. When Griffel began to fade in the last 100 yards of the event, Cole rallied to take the lead and never gave it back, earning his first college win. Wilimovsky turned on the jets in the last 50 and surpassed Griffel for second place, sending the Cats’ sidelines into a loud roar.

Wilimovsky said after the meet it’s been great having Cole training and racing alongside him this year.

“At any other dual meet, if they don’t have a guy faster than 4:30 then there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be first and second every meet in that race (500-yard freestyle),” he said.

Schroeder said he believes he’s found “a diamond in the rough” with Cole and has been extremely impressed with the freshman’s performance so far.

“Every time he’s swum this year, he’s gone a season-best time,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what event it is. That’s really exciting. I’ve seen this kid do some things in practice. He’s going to be really, really good. I don’t think he knows how good he can be yet.”

With the Cats staring down another Big Ten opponent next week in Wisconsin, Schroeder said the team will focus much more on Saturday’s win than Friday’s loss.

“Our guys have to believe they can win,” he said. “It all depends on which team shows up. Is the team from Friday going to show up, or will it be the team from Saturday? My hope is the team from Saturday, the one with fire and heart and the one that wants to prove something.”

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