A loook beyond the numbers

A loook beyond the numbers

Brian Mason (Athletic Communications Assistant)

It can be down-right mind-boggling to attempt to process all the numbers that come out of this week’s Big Ten Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships.

It all boils down to the fact that the Badgers have been fast. Very fast.

They entered the weekend leading the conference in the 200 medley relay, a position they backed up with a Big Ten title in the event to open the meet on Wednesday.

Then, on Thursday, Beckie Thompson lowered her own Big Ten record in the prelims of the 50-yard freestyle before taking the conference crown during the evening finals session. Not bad for a freshman.

The progression of that particular conference record has been an interesting one as far as UW fans are concerned. At last year’s Big Ten meet, then-senior Jackie Vavrek clocked a conference-record time of 22.30 seconds.

That mark lasted for all of a few minutes before Northwestern’s Andrea Hupman went 22.26 in the next preliminary heat.

Fast-forward to December and the Texas Invitational, where Thompson clocked a 50 freestyle split of 22.25 to lead off a Big Ten record swim for the Badgers in the 200 medley relay. Since lead-off legs count toward individual times in swimming, that gave Thompson a hand in two conference records with just a single swim!

That brings us to Thursday, when Thompson raised the bar again by lowering the Big Ten record to 22.09 in the prelims of the 50 free. She backed that up with a time of 22.26 in the finals on her way to the title, while Minnesota’s Stacy Busack swam 22.29 to join Thompson and Hupman as the only athletes in league history to dip below the 22.30 threshold.

For those of you scoring at home, it’s something Thompson has done four times in just over two months. Of the top-five 50 freestyle times in Big Ten history, four belong to Thompson.

Between her rmarks in the 50 free and her contributions to the Badgers’ conference records in the 200 medley relay, Thompson has been part of five Big Ten-record performances this season.

Did I mention she’s just a freshman?

Not that Thompson is the only newcomer to make an immediate impact for the Badgers this year, however.

Ashley Wanland, another freshman, was part of the Badgers’ Big Ten title in the 200 medley relay on Wednesday and is certainly a factor for conference titles in the breaststroke events. She ranks only behind Minnesota sophomore Jillian Tyler – who was a three-time All-American as a freshman last season and swam on the Canadian team at last summer’s Olympics – in both events.

Wanland is eight nationally in the 100 breast after setting a UW school record of 1:00.07 in December and will shoot for the Big Ten title in that event Friday night. She also ranks ninth in the NCAA in the 200 breast at 2:10.72, the second-fastest time in school history.

Both Wanland and Thompson are part of the Badgers’ 400 medley relay team, which ranks second in the conference at 3:36.04 and will swim for a title Friday at 5:30 p.m.

For all the contributions of those newcomers, however, the Badgers also enjoy plenty of veteran experience, as well.

Senior captains Jen Illescas and Christine Zwiegers will swim for a conference title in the 100 buttefly tonight – an event in which Zwiegers owns the conference lead at 52.90.

There’s also Abby Soderholm with a chance for big points in the 400 IM, Karlyn Hougan with a shot at a top-eight finish in the 200 free and Maggie Meyer and Sara Goff as contenders in the 100 back. And that’s just the events scheduled for Friday.

A disqualification in the 800 freestyle relay Wednesday likely took the Badgers out of the team title race, but there are still plenty of opportunities for UW swimmers to stand atop the medal stand before the meet concludes Saturday.

In other news…
Speaking of numbers, there’s this piece of news: the NCAA will expand the field for both the men’s and women’s national championship meets next month.

 In a season of unprecedented moves by the NCAA in reaction to the proliferation of speed suits on the world swimming, this latest development may have the least precedent of all.

Because of the impact of high-tech speed suits, like the LZR Racer by Speedo or the Blueseventy worn by the Badgers at this week’s Big Ten championships, the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Committee has decided to expand the national meet fields by 67 athletes.

That brings the competitor cap for the women’s championships to 314 athletes (from 281) and increases the size of the men’s field to 269 (from 235). That means 33 more spots for the women’s championship meet and 34 additional slots for the men’s national meet.

That’s a nearly 12-percent increase in women’s competitors and a boost of 15 percent for the men’s field.

It’s an interesting move considering that, after originally placing a competition ban on the technical suits for last year’s NCAA championships, the committee lifted the moratorium in advance of the 2008-09 season because it deemed that the suits did not provide a competitive advantage in the water.

Obviously, after seeing the suits’ impact on the college record books this season, the committee has changed its stance.

In a previous decision, the committee clarified the NCAA rule book by stating that a competition suit could be comprised of nothing more than a single garment. That came on the heels of the season’s first weekend of major competition when a number of teams, including the Badgers, experimented with layering other suits underneath the new speed suits.

Fast times – including an American record in the women’s 50 freestyle -- came out of that weekend, although it’s difficult to tell whether or not layering provided a measureable advantage to any of the competitors beyond what is offered by the technical suits themselves.

The fact that qualification standards for the NCAA championships were greatly adjusted before the season is another sign that the committee was fully aware of the potential impact of allowing the suits in competition. In nearly every event, this year’s standard for automatic NCAA qualification is faster than the Big Ten Conference record.

Thompson’s conference-record of 22.09 seconds may be fifth-fastest 50 freestyle time in the country this year, but it still does not meet the automatic qualifying standard of 21.93.

The real question that remains is whether or not the committee will reinstate the ban on technical suits after the conclusion of this year’s NCAA championships. An agreement reached Friday between 16 suit manufacturers and FINA, swimming’s world governing body, to restrict speed suit design likely will play a role in that decision, as will the course of action USA Swimming elects to take.

Between the massive effect they’ve had on the record books and their lofty price tags – in an economic climate that has many college athletics programs scaling back their budgets – the NCAA will be faced with that important question: Are the suits really worth it?


Appears in Women's Swimming Blog

Tagged with Women's Swimming Blog, Swimming

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