April 30, 2008
EVANSTON, Ill. -- The 2007-08 season proved Northwestern still has what it takes to dominate the pool despite graduating the two best swimmers in school history last spring. Led by seniors Kyle Bubolz (Waukesha, Wisc./Waukesha North) and Bruno Barbic (Zagreb, Croatia/V. Gimnazija), the Wildcats turned in solid efforts throughout their dual and championship meet campaigns and took 12th place at the NCAA Championships with a four-man contingent.
Bubolz and Barbic had integral roles on the team again this year. Bubolz swam six NCAA `B' standards during the regular season in addition to automatically qualifying for the national championships in the 100 fly with a time of 48.60 at The Classic at SMU held in January. Bubolz earned Big Ten Swimmer of the Week honors for his performance at The Classic, and he maintained his eminence through the end of his career.
At the Big Ten Championships, Bubolz was a member of every relay team except the 800 free, and he earned his fourth Big Ten conference title in an NCAA `B' time of 19.64 in the finals of the 50 free. Bubolz went on to grab five All-America awards at the NCAA Championships in the 50 free, 100 free, 100 fly, and 200 and 400 free relays. His highest finish was fourth-place in the 100 fly where he broke his own school record in a 45.74. By adding five honors to his slate, Bubolz brought his career total to 19, which ranks third behind Matt Grevers' 27 awards and Mike Alexandrov's 24.
Barbic transferred to Northwestern from Washington before the start of the 2006-07 season and had an immediate impact during his short time with the `Cats. He was a member, along with Bubolz, of the 400 medley relay that won the NCAA title in 2007, and his presence on the team was imperative for NU's success yet again in 2008.
Barbic finished in the top three in 11 events during the dual meet season and went on to share the Big Ten conference spotlight with Bubolz. He participated on the same four relays with Bubolz at the conference meet, and he finished second behind him in the 50 free. Barbic earned four All-America honors at the NCAA Championships for his efforts in the 50 free, 100 free, and 200 free and 400 free relays, bringing his career total to 10.
Junior Eric Nilsson
(Weston, Mass./Weston) remained a prominent force for the `Cats as well. Nilsson is by far the `Cats' most versatile swimmer, and he ended the season ranked on NU's top times list in 9 out of 14 individual events. His stellar dual meet performances included 11 NCAA `B' qualifying time swims in three different individual events.
Nilsson helped all three freestyle relays as well as the 400 medley relay swim NCAA `B' standards at the Big Ten Championships, in addition to qualifying for the championship final in all three of his individual events. Nilsson finished the season by swimming two career-best times at the NCAA Championships in the 200 free and 200 fly. His participation on the 200 free and 400 free relays earned him two All-America accolades.
Freshman Brian Kerr emerged as the team's strongest new member (East Grand Rapids, Mich./East Grand Rapids). He was the only freshman who qualified for the NCAA Championships. His finishes in the 50 and 100 freestyles at the Big Ten Championships earned him spots on the 200 and 400 free relays that swam NCAA `B' standards at the meet.
At the NCAA Championships, Kerr was awarded two All-America honors for the 200 and 400 free relays. He earned first-team All-America honors with the 400 free relay that finished seventh and honorable mention All-America honors with the 200 free relay that finished 10th. Kerr, Nilsson, Bubolz and Barbic's finish at the meet was the team's fifth-straight top-12 place. Despite only sending four men to the meet, Northwestern finished only one place behind Minnesota's 15-member squad.
Freshmen Alex Tyler (Birmingham, Mich./Birmingham Groves) and Peter Park (Princeton, N.J./Peddie School) added significant depth to the `Cats' roster. Tyler paired with Park to form a young distance duo and he also contributed to the team in the breastroke events. Tyler's mid-season efforts helped Northwestern defeat numerous rivals at dual meets, but his swims at the Big Ten Championships truly stood out against the rest of his class.
Tyler swam his career-first NCAA `B' provisional time in the prelims of the 400 IM with a time of 3:52.88 before finishing 12th overall at finals. He was Northwestern's fastest swimmer in the 400 IM this season, and he was ranked second in the 200 breast and third in the 100 breast on the team's season top-times list.
Park finished third-place or better in dual meets eight times throughout the season, and he helped the `Cats edge out Notre Dame for a victory at their January dual meet by winning the 1,000 free and 400 IM. Park finished the season ranked second on Northwestern's top times list in the 1,000 free and 400 IM.
Several other `Cats' efforts offered the team substantial support at the Big Ten Championships. Juniors Adam Beckman (Kearney, Neb./Kearney) and John Franklin (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./North Broward Prep) qualified for the consolation final of their events at the conference championship. Beckman and Franklin both eventually finished tenth in the 200 back and 200 breast, respectively. Franklin's time of 2:00.10 in the prelims was his career-best time and an NCAA `B' qualifying time. He also swam the breastroke legs on both medley relays.
The contributions on Northwestern's relays from other team members helped Northwestern secure a sixth-place Big Ten Championships finish. Seniors Daniel Walls (Tucson, Ariz./Sabino) and Charlie Cunnick (Davenport, Iowa/Davenport Central) were among the upperclassmen whose veteran experience gained the team an additional NCAA `B' standard time. Walls and Cunnick both swam with Nilsson and freshman Sean Mathews (St. Louis, Mo./Lafayette) on the 800 free relay, whose time of 6:33.71 finished sixth and under the NCAA `B' cut. Sophomore Jake Vogel (Canton, Ill./Canton) swam the backstroke leg on the fifth-place 200 medley relay.
Northwestern graduates eight seniors this year, among them Bubolz and Barbic. It is safe to say after this season that despite the losses, the `Cats are in good shape to maintain their national prominence with the strong squad that remains.