Women’s Swimming: Northwestern welcomes Wisconsin with eye toward future

Tucker Johnson, Reporter

Swimming and Diving

Northwestern will have its first home meet of the season when it goes against Wisconsin on Saturday at Norris Aquatics Center.

The undefeated Wildcats opened their Big Ten season two weeks ago with a convincing victory on the road against Illinois, 173-127. They are hoping to maintain their momentum against the Badgers, who are ranked ninth nationally in the most recent coaches poll.

Saturday will be Wisconsin’s second meet in two days. Before taking on NU, Wisconsin is traveling to Bloomington, Indiana to face off with the Hoosiers. The competition with Indiana will be the Badgers’ first since they stole a win from Minnesota, last year’s Big Ten champions, with a final score of 152-148 on Oct. 16.

Despite the intimidating opposition, the meet between NU and Wisconsin still promises to be very competitive. Co-captains Julianne Kurke and Ellen Stello said the Badgers are a quality opponent and it will not be easy for the Cats to get the win. In last year’s meeting, then-No. 19 Wisconsin defeated NU 166.5-122.5, winning 10 of 16 events.

“They’re a really tough team, so it will be a challenge, but an exciting challenge,” Kurke said.

Although NU has to compete on Saturday, it is training for the long term, so the day before the meet will still be an intense practice. Coach Abby Steketee said the team will train through this week’s meet and still has its normal double practices planned for Friday, lifting weights in the morning and swimming later in the day.

When asked about her thoughts on the meet in the near future, Steketee emphasized the need for individual swimmers to improve against themselves.

“Success is about being the best we can be, no matter what the odds are,” she said.

Unlike other sports that require regular-season success to qualify for a playoff, swimming relies solely on performance at the Big Ten Championships to determine who competes at the NCAA Championships. Every workout, Steketee said, is designed to help the athletes peak for the February conference championships.

In the meantime, Steketee said she is hoping to see swimmers drop times and make small improvements from the meet against Illinois two weeks ago.

“Maybe it’s just a 10th (of a second) here, a 10th (of a second) there, but if we make the technical changes, we should be a little faster,” she said.

Last year, NU’s Annika Winsnes showed how this preparation strategy could be effective. When the Cats took on Wisconsin last year, two All-American Badgers swam under 1:50 in the 200-yard freestyle, with Winsnes close behind in a then-career best 1:50.55. Since that meet, Winsnes has dropped her time even further, swimming an NCAA B qualifying time of 1:46.53 late last season.

Other key swimmers have seen similar improvements since last year’s meet with Wisconsin. Stello said the team was looking forward to using the meet with their rivals as a measuring stick for the season ahead.

“They’re definitely going to give us a good challenge,” Stello added, “but there are places where we’ll be surprisingly strong.”

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