Men’s Swimming: Wildcats make splash in Big Ten with win over Badgers

John Paschall, Assistant Gameday Editor

Coach Jarod Schroeder kept telling his swimmers in the offseason they could hang with and beat some of the best teams the Big Ten has to offer. On Friday, his group finally realized and executed his message as Northwestern hung on to defeat Wisconsin 165-135 at the Sports Pavilion and Aquatics Center.

Schroeder put his best freestyler, senior Chase Stephens, in the 200-yard medley relay to start the meet, a move that showed how much Schroeder wanted to win that event. The Wildcats went on to take the opening race as well as the next event, the 1,000-yard freestyle.

Schroeder took a chance by switching freshman Charlie Cole, who has normally raced in the 1,000 free this year, with freshman Jonathan Lieberman. Cole raced in the next event, the 200-yard freestyle, instead. The gamble paid off when Lieberman snuck into third, a critical place for NU to prevent Wisconsin from stealing points.

“If we go first and fifth there instead of first and third, we only gain one point,” Schroeder said. “With us going first and third, we gained five points. That was a pretty big deal for us that he stepped up there and (was) doing what we thought he could do.”

From there, NU found itself in a back-and-forth battle with Wisconsin until junior Mark Ferguson and freshman Andy Jovanovic sealed the Cats’ victory, finishing first and second in the 100-yard butterfly.

Schroeder said Ferguson has come a long way since his days swimming in his native country of Australia, and things are finally starting to click.

“When he came in from Australia, where they don’t have high school swimming, he didn’t really understand the team concept until the middle of last year,” Schroeder said. “But now, Mark will come over to me and ask me how many points are we ahead or behind. He’s doing now what we thought he could do when we recruited him.”

The most impressive part of NU’s win was how they bounced back after an ugly loss against Ohio State and Purdue. There was not only improvement inside the pool, but also outside of it.

“We swam better and looked better on deck,” senior captain Tim Smith said. “That has a huge influence on how guys hold themselves and how they get excited for each other’s races. When you get behind other guys’ races it really shows. That’s what our swagger is, and I think we’ve got it right now.”

Schroeder recently had his team focus a great deal on team bonding in order to bring his group of guys even closer. He said he feels that has paid off tremendously, and Stephens said the effects of it were shown in Friday’s win.

“Being so small, we definitely need to always create our own environment to succeed,” Stephens said. “We can preach it all day long, but it takes a while to get there. Now we are starting to get there.”

The biggest challenge for the Cats will be consistency. NU will host the TYR Invitational, a three-day meet, at SPAC on Friday. Schroeder likes to schedule these types of meets because they are similar to the format of the Big Ten Championships, a meet that has given the Cats plenty of trouble in the past few years.

“It’s going to be an exciting environment,” he said. “Hopefully our team gets caught up in that. We’ve got to make sure we sustain the energy we had tonight over three days.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @John_Paschall