A week after the women wrapped things up, powerhouse Michigan dominated the Big Ten Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships in Bloomington, Ind., claiming 10 First Team All-Conference honorees en route to its third straight title.
Indiana finished second, while Northwestern repeated its performance from last year with another ninth-place finish. The Hoosiers fielded the best individual performances with the Swimmer of the Championships Cody Miller and Co-Diver of the Championships Darian Schmidt, yet snagged silver in overall scoring.
The 161 points Northwestern racked up was 35 ahead of 10th-place finisher Michigan State and 51 points away from eighth-place Penn State.
After securing a great new recruiting class to add to a core group of returning veterans, like senior co-captains Charlie Rimkus and Alex Ratajczyk, Wildcats head coach Jarod Schroeder thought his team could have moved up a couple spots on the totem pole from last season.
“Injuries kept us from discovering who we are in the pool,” Schroeder said. Northwestern is the smallest program in the Big Ten, which prevents the team from obtaining a lot of depth. A small team sustaining a lot of injuries is a perfect recipe for mediocrity.
“We had some higher expectations for the season,” added Schroeder, who admitted the team wanted to finish closer to the top six at the start of the season.
While junior Chase Stephens performed up to his standards over the weekend, earning 12 points in the 100 freestyle with a time of 43.47, Schroeder said a seven-week back injury sustained earlier in the season prevented him from reaching his full potential.
The ‘Cats came out of the gate slow against some tough opponents, falling toward the back of the pack on the first day. Still, Northwestern swam on.
“After a rough couple of days, we could have thrown in the towel,” Schroeder said.
However, to the surprise of many, the Wildcats finished the weekend strong with respectable performances Saturday. Rimkus earned nine points for the ‘Cats in the 200 butterfly with a securing a ninth-place finish.
Junior diver Nick Pinkerton continued to be an important contributor for the Wildcats Saturday. After an injury to fellow junior Tanner Nemkov left Northwestern short-handed, Pinkerton had to step up as the team’s lone diver for much of the season. He finished 24th overall on the 10-meter platform.
For the final race of the championships, Northwestern ran its best relay of the meet. The 400-relay team, which consisted of juniors Chase Stephens, Matt Wilcox, Dominik Cubelic and sophomore Matthew Margritier managed to finish sixth in NCAA ‘B’ standard.
The young talent coach Schroeder alluded to shined brightly this weekend, with long distance swimmer Jordan Wilimovsky snapping Northwestern’s longest standing record in the 1,650 freestyle on Saturday night. The freshman’s 15:03.07 time was almost five seconds quicker than the previous record, set by Brian Davis back in 2004.
“It was great to compete and help the team as a freshman,” Wilimovsky said. “It was some of the most intense competition I’ve ever seen.”
Northwestern hopes to stay even with such intense competition behind some promising young swimmers and solid juniors and sophomores returning next year.