The Daily Northwestern

Women’s Swimming: Cats finish strong at elite championship meet

Kendra Mayer, Reporter

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The Big Ten Championship last week highlighted Northwestern’s perseverance in the face of elite competition.

The Cats placed 10th out of 12 teams in the last meet of the 2013-14 regular season, which brought some of the nation’s fastest teams to Minneapolis for a four-day contest.

Coach Jimmy Tierney said the meet was a huge stepping stone for NU and a sign of good things to come.

“The team is really growing as (the swimmers) are gaining strength as athletes and getting more confident,” he said.

Tierney said the team came to this year’s Big Tens with many fresh faces but walked away from the meet with even greater motivation and more room for improvement next season.

“We have some talented freshmen, but a lot of (performing well) is mental. … They’ve got to believe they can compete at a high level,” the coach said.

Freshman Lauren Abruzzo, a top performer for NU all season, placed fourth overall in the 1650-yard swim in the meet’s last finals session. The meet’s high energy and her teammates’ support got her through the nerve-racking and pressurized experience of her first Big Tens, the freestyler said.

“I looked over and saw all my teammates all lined up on the side of the pool,” Abruzzo said. “That definitely got me pumped.”

Abruzzo’s time of 16:15.29 puts the freestyler in contention for qualifying for the NCAA Championship in March. She will find out in roughly two weeks if she made the cut, which depends on the outcome of other Division I conference meets.

Another top competitor came from the opposite side of NU’s swim and dive spectrum, senior diver Cosima Lenz. Lenz said she didn’t feel too nervous coming into her last Big Tens. Instead, she felt determined to make her last championship meet a good one.

“You have to be at the top of your game,” she said.

The diver placed an impressive eighth on platform Saturday night against a set of tough competitors. Her score helped the Cats edge out Michigan State and Illinois in the final rankings.

With her high in-season scores, Lenz officially qualified for the NCAA diving competition, which takes place in March. She will continue to train for the national meet in the coming weeks.

Looking ahead for NU, sophomore Julianne Kurke, who did not qualify for further competition this season, said she’s feeling very positive going into spring training.

Kurke dropped a nearly unheard-of two seconds in her 100-yard breaststroke Friday. She said she now feels much more confident in her ability to be a top contender at elite meets like the Big Tens.

“Big Tens is just such a special thing,” Kurke said. “And that was a big step for me.”

Tierney said he believes spring training and another season’s worth of hard work will give every swimmer, new or old to the team, the confidence to reach the “next level.”

However, Tierney said Saturday, the last day of the four-day meet, wasn’t all about times and scoring. Directly after the last final session on Saturday night, the team celebrated over dinner and held an annual banquet with many of the swimmers’ families.

“Tonight gives us a moment to thank the seniors and all that they did,” Tierney said. “They were such great leaders and inspirations to others on the team.”

Twitter: @kendra_mayer