Men’s Swimming: Wildcats return from Hawaii to face lethal remaining schedule

John Paschall, Reporter

Snow and crippling wind chill wasn’t the only thing slapping Northwestern across the face when the Wildcats returned from their annual training trip in Hawaii.

NU now faces the cruel reality of its daunting second half schedule, which includes defending national champion No.1 Michigan and rival Notre Dame Saturday at the Norris Aquatics Center.

But battling the fierce competition is something coach Jarod Schroeder has always wanted for his team. The Cats have not had a great deal of success against some of the nation’s best teams, and Schroeder has attributed some of the difficulties to NU’s mental approach as the meets progress. Schroeder hopes the upcoming string of opponents will help the Cats prepare for the Big Ten Championships in late February.

“That was the design of the schedule,” Schroeder said. “I wanted them to face challenges.”

NU entered the break riding a wave of success with a dominating win at the TYR Invitational as well as an impressive dual meet victory over Wisconsin the week before. Pool records were falling off the walls of the Norris Aquatics Center with the team giving significant credit for those results to the work it did out of the pool. The Cats put a heavy emphasis on team building through various activities including anything from a split-squad Jenga competition to buying goofy, cheap Hawaiian shirts on the training trip.

But the fun and games will be over when NU looks across the pool and sees a handful of internationally decorated and accomplished swimmers from Michigan and Notre Dame. The Cats, who feature mostly underclassmen, will aim to follow their usual preparation method and put their blinders on, focusing on their own individual races. Senior Chase Stephens said the young swimmers cannot afford to lose their swagger when they finally get back on the blocks.

“I definitely think you need a lot of confidence in yourself,” he said. “There’s a big difference between being confident in yourself and being cocky. You got to say, ‘Hey, I made it this far. Why can’t I be racing them?’”

While the confidence will undoubtedly be there, Stephens and the rest of the team will embrace the underdog role and believe there’s no reason to count them out.

“You got to say, ‘Here’s the top dog and I’m the underdog. Might as well just race with the best of the best and see what happens,’” Stephens said.

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