Swimming and Diving: Northwestern women kick off postseason at Big Ten Championships


Joanne Haner/The Daily Northwestern

A Northwestern swimmer swims against Illinois-Chicago. The Wildcats will compete at the Women’s Big Ten Championships this weekend.

Kate Walter, Reporter

They’ve put in the work and swam their laps. It’s conference championship time and the Northwestern women are ready to rumble.

The No. 16 Wildcats will battle conference foes at the Women’s Big Ten Championships over the course of four days in Wisconsin. NU came out of the gates hot during the first night of competition on Wednesday. 

The team of junior Emma Lepisova, senior Tara Vovk, graduate student Maddie Smith and sophomore Jasmine Nocentini snagged the bronze in the 200-yard medley relay, setting a new school record of 1:35.23 and achieving an NCAA “A” cut. In the 800-freestyle relay, junior Ally Larson, sophomore Lola Mull, sophomore Annika Wagner and Nocentini finished in 7:04.60 for fifth place and set yet another school record. Individual events begin Thursday.

The Cats are coming off of a strong last meet of the regular season at Minnesota. After a loss to rival Wisconsin, NU bounced back, sweeping Big Ten competitors No. 20 Minnesota and Iowa and smashing several team records in the process. 

After a neck-and-neck battle with the Golden Gophers, the women took home the victory on the final day of competition. Coach Katie Robinson said this experience affirmed the team’s confidence heading into championship season. 

“We’re moving in a good direction with our women when it comes to being in tight races and having the confidence to stand up and get the job done,” Robinson said.

Nocentini clinched first place and tied the school record with a blazing 21.92 in the 50-yard freestyle, good for top-ten in the NCAA this season. Mull etched her name into the history books with a record-breaking time of 9:34.56 in the 1000-yard freestyle.

The team of Smith, Nocentini, Larson and freshman Kenisha Gupta broke the 200-yard freestyle relay record in 1:28.50.

As for the rest of their Big Ten matchups this season, the Cats have defeated Illinois and Purdue, while suffering losses to No.15 Indiana and No.14 Wisconsin. Smith believes NU and these closely ranked rivals will duke it out for the third through fifth places at Big Ten’s. The fight for the conference title will likely unfold between reigning Big Ten champions No. 6 Ohio State and No. 9 Michigan.

At last year’s Big Ten Championships, the women finished fourth and scored the most points in program history. Robinson looks to continue that upward trend in her second season as head coach.

While NU is full of anticipation for Big Ten’s, they are also placing a greater emphasis on the NCAA Championships later this month in Atlanta, Georgia. This shifted focus on the National Championships in addition to the conference meet signals the Cats’ rising national prowess.

“Up until this year we’ve had to kind of force our hand at Big Ten Championships, but this year we don’t have to do that so much because several women have already qualified for NCAAs,” Robinson said. 

Smith described this attention on NCAAs as a “huge culture change in terms of expectations we have for ourselves.”

In addition to Nocentini and Mull, NU’s breaststroke trio of Vovk, graduate student Sophie Angus and junior Hannah Brunzell will pose a threat in the postseason. Smith seeks success in the sprint-freestyle events and Lepisova in the backstroke.  

From the diving squad, junior Jaye Patrick is on a roll this season, setting a new pool record on the women’s 1-meter platform during the Wisconsin meet. Patrick and junior Markie Hopkins finished third and fourth, respectively, against Minnesota and Iowa.

After a successful series of dual meets, the Cats are ready to both take and set their marks during championship season.

“They’re gunning pretty hard to make a splash at Big Tens,” Robinson said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @katewalter03

Related Stories: 

Swimming and Diving: Freestyle wins it for Northwestern in record-breaking weekend

Swimming and Diving: After historic 2020-21 run, Northwestern sets sights high, faces rival Wisconsin this weekend

Swimming & Diving: Northwestern looks forward to new season after a successful 2020-21 run