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Men’s Swimming: Northwestern finishes ninth at Big Ten Championships

A Northwestern swimmer dives into the pool. The Wildcats finished ninth out of 10 teams at the Big Ten Championships.

A Northwestern swimmer dives into the pool. The Wildcats finished ninth out of 10 teams at the Big Ten Championships.

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

A Northwestern swimmer dives into the pool. The Wildcats finished ninth out of 10 teams at the Big Ten Championships.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Reporter

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Swimming and Diving

Northwestern avoided a last-place finish at the Big Ten Championships and held off Michigan State to take ninth.

Ten different Wildcat swimmers earning NCAA ‘B’ qualifying times on the weekend. Junior Tyler Lis was the star of the meet for NU (4-9, 0-4 Big Ten). He qualified for the finals in three events, singlehandedly earning the Cats 23.5 points. Lis finished 23rd in the 200-yard individual medley, 17th in the 400 IM and tied for 14th in the 200-yard backstroke. He surprised even himself by qualifying for finals in the 200 IM.

“I was really happy with my meet,” Lis said. “I dropped a little over 2 seconds, and I wasn’t expecting to make it back but because I went a best time, I was able to come back and represent Northwestern for the evening.”

Junior Jack Thorne finished 19th in the 200 back, earning 6 points for NU, and junior Justin Hanson touched in 23rd in the 200-yard butterfly and took 1.5 points. Freshman D.J. Hwang had a solid meet as well, with his 16th-place finish in the 1650-yard freestyle being worth 11 points.

Overall, though, the Cats could not keep up with their more talented competitors. Four Big Ten teams are in the NCAA rankings, including two in the top 10. No. 3 Indiana won the meet, with No. 7 Michigan taking second and No. 16 Ohio State coming in third.

“I’ve never experienced a meet like that in my life before,” Hwang said. “A lot of us were a little disappointed because I know we set very high goals for ourselves at the beginning of the season.”

Junior Will Hofstadter concluded his solid season with another strong showing. He took 10th in the 100-yard breaststroke, earning the team 17 points, and missed qualifying for the final in the 200 breast by five hundredths of a second.

NU had a relatively young team this season, indicating likely improvement next year. Of the six swimmers who earned the Cats points in individual events this weekend, none are seniors. Hwang and Liam Gately, who finished 19th in the 1650 free and 23rd in the 200 free, are both freshmen.

“While there are some things that we didn’t achieve that we can always continue working on, I think overall, we’re pretty pleased,” Lis said.

Like at the TYR Invitational in November, NU found itself in a back-and-forth battle with Michigan State. While the Cats and Spartans were competing for first place then, they were looking to avoid finishing last in Minneapolis. NU trailed Michigan State by eight points after Thursday’s events, but led the Spartans by 16 after Friday and held on Saturday despite finishing last in the final relay.

Swimmers who earned NCAA ‘B’ qualifying times will likely not make the NCAA Championships next month, so the team’s focus will be shifting to next season.

Hwang said the team has another large freshman class coming in next year, so the Cats are optimistic that next season will be better. NU is still looking for its first win in a Big Ten dual since January 2014.

“The season as a whole was a very good learning experience to see what this team could do,” Hwang said. “We know what it’s going to take to be successful in the coming season, and we’ll be looking forward to next year.”

Twitter: @bxrosenberg