Women’s Swimming: Wildcats look to improve under new coach


Source: Northwestern Athletics

Coach Abby Steketee talks with a swimmer at Nevada. Steketee, an NU grad, is returning to Evanston to start her “dream job” as the Cats leader this season.

Tucker Johnson, Reporter

In its first year under a new coach, Northwestern is looking for a fresh start.

Last year, during the 21st season under coach Jimmy Tierney, the Wildcats finished a disappointing 10th out of 13 teams at the Big Ten Championships.

Tierney left the team in April, and the program quickly hired Abby Steketee (SESP ‘03) to replace him. Steketee spent the past three years as the coach at Nevada and was named the Mountain West Conference Coach of the year in 2015.

“Now I have the dream job,” she said of her return to Evanston.

During her time at NU, Steketee was not a member of the varsity swim team. She did, however, captain the club rowing team, and after her graduation worked as an assistant coach at West Virginia while pursuing a master’s degree. Steketee also coached at South Carolina as an assistant before getting her first head coaching job at Nevada in 2012. There, Steketee turned around a struggling program to take third in the Mountain West each of the past two seasons.

Steketee said she is looking to lead a similar transformation here. Last season’s 10th place finish in the Big Ten was the team’s lowest since 1983, and no individual swimmers qualified for ‘A’ Finals at the Big Ten Championships.

Steketee emphasized that any improvement will be incremental in nature and stressed the importance of long-term goals.

“We want to move up in the Big Ten,” she said. “As a team, it’s going to take baby steps, but in the long term we can be at the top of the Big Ten, we can be in the top 20 at NCAAs.”

Almost all of the Cats’ key contributors returned for this year’s season, including all of the swimmers on the relays at last year’s Big Tens. The team of junior Lacey Locke, sophomore Mary Warren, senior Julia Pratt and senior Julianne Kurke smashed the school record in the 200 medley relay last season, finishing in 1:39.10 at the Big Tens.

Also returning is junior Annika Winsnes, who placed 13th overall in the 100 freestyle and earned a NCAA ‘B’ cut time of 49.39 at Big Tens.

“We had a more successful season than the numbers might suggest,” junior co-captain Ellen Stello said.

Kurke, her co-captain, agreed, citing the number of Norris Aquatic Center and academic-year records that fell last season.

The Cats’ first competition will be the Alumnae Meet this Friday, which could be a chance to fine-tune details before the season gets fully underway.

The team will then travel to a meet hosted by the University of Chicago, where they will also face Denison and the University of Illinois at Chicago, on Oct. 24. The Big Ten competition gets underway the week after, with a meet at Illinois.

Although they have yet to test themselves in competition, the swimmers feel good about their training so far this season.

“I’ve never had practices this hard, the conditioning we’re doing is at a whole new level,” Kurke said.  “Personally I feel like I’m in really good shape so I’m excited to see how that translates in the meets.”

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