April 30, 2008
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern's performances at this year's Big Ten and NCAA Championships afforded the `Cats what was arguably their best season in the program's recent history. Northwestern finished the year with its highest rank in the Big Ten Conference since 2002 and its best NCAA finish since 2000.
The `Cats' record-breaking efforts at the Big Ten Championships in February proved to be the highlight of the season. Eight different swimmers broke 10 school records. Senior Andrea Hupman (Lawrenceville, Ga./Brookwood) led the team's endeavors by earning more school records than any other `Cat.
Hupman set three individual school records in her signature freestyle sprint events. Her time of 22.26 in the prelims of the 50 free earned her the Northwestern school record, and she gained second-team All-Big Ten honors for finishing second with a time of 22.40 in the finals. Hupman continued to cause records to fall throughout the entire meet.
She grabbed her first Big Ten conference titles and Big Ten Championships meet records in the 100 and 200 freestyles. Hupman's lead-off time of 48.53 on the 400 free relay broke the old school record, and she won the individual 100 free conference title in a time of 48.65. Hupman received another first-team All-Big Ten award after winning the 200 free in a 1:44.89. All three records were under the NCAA `A' qualifying marks.
Three other team veterans put their own marks in the school's record book. Sophomore Kassia Shishkoff (Charlotte, N.C./St. David's School) went 4:14.52 in the 400 IM to win the consolation final and automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships. Sophomore Genny Szymanski (Haines, Alaska/Haines) and senior Katie Braun (Edina, Minn./Edina) achieved their school records in the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly, respectively. Szymanski's 1:57.05 and Braun's 53.57 both were NCAA `A' automatic qualifying times. Szymanski finished fourth in the back; Braun took ninth in the fly.
Northwestern's underclassmen also played a large part in the team's success. Freshmen Liza Engstrom
(Reno, Nev./Robert McQueen) and Ellen Grigg
(Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Latin School) were the `Cats' standout newcomers. Engstrom finished seventh in the conference in the 100 back with an NCAA `B' qualifying time of 54.81, while Grigg smashed an 18-year-old record in the prelims of the 500 free. Her time of 4:46.65 in the finals placed her seventh in the conference, but her 4:43.92 swim in the prelims beat Marilyn Peck's 4:44.68 from 1990 and automatically gave her a trip to the NCAA Championships.
Two other teammates made records fall as members of relays. Sophomore Emily Wong (Nepean, Ontario/St. Joseph's) and freshman Teisha Lightbourne (Nassau, Bahamas/Peddie School, N.J.) swam with Hupman and Shishkoff on the 400 free relay. The quintet's time of 3:18.20 finished third, broke a 10-year-old team record and automatically qualified them for the NCAA Championships. Wong joined Grigg, Hupman and Shishkoff on the 800 free relay that finished third, bettered the school record from 2007 and went an NCAA `B' standard time of 7:13.40. Lightbourne, Wong, Engstrom and Hupman finished fourth in the 200 free relay, narrowly missing the school record but still qualifying for the NCAA Championships in an `A' cut of 1:30.49.
Several other Wildcats added to Northwestern's depth at the meet. Freshman Katie Eschenburg (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead) and junior Hayley Fry (Marion, Iowa/Linn-Mar) took third in the 400 medley relay with Braun and Hupman. Fry swam with Engstrom, Braun and Lightbourne on the 200 medley relay that was fifth, and she finished sixth-place individually in the 100 breastroke in a career-best time of 1:02.39.
Freshmen Erin Reilly (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln Way East) and Alex Kraus (Birmingham, Ala./Vestavia Hills) qualified for the bonus final heats in their events. Reilly cut over .50 seconds from her seed time in the 50 free and won the bonus final in a time of 23.39. She also made the bonus final heat of the 100 free. Kraus swam the 200 fly for the `Cats and placed 18th with a time of 2:02.98, less than .50 seconds from the NCAA `B' standard.
On the diving side, redshirt senior Leanne Dumais (Ventura, Calif./Buena) was seventh on the 1-meter springboard and fifth on the 3-meter springboard, the first time an NU diver has made it to the finals on both boards.
The demise of old records and 10 NCAA `A' automatic times were not the only major accomplishments for the `Cats at the conference Championships. Hupman and head coach Jimmy Tierney were awarded two of the meet's most prestigious accolades. Hupman was named Big Ten Swimmer of the Championships and Tierney received Big Ten Coach of the Year. The team's finish of fifth place was its highest in the conference since 2002 and set the stage for what would be an impressive NCAA Championships.
Hupman, Braun, Fry, Shishkoff, Szymanski, Wong, Lightbourne, Grigg and Engstrom made up the Wildcats' 2008 NCAA Championships team. Hupman once again set the standard of excellence for the team by winning six All-America honors. She picked up her first first-team All-America award in the 200 free by finishing eighth and was honorable mention All-America in the 50 and 100 freestyles.
Grigg was Northwestern's other first-team All-America honoree. She finished eighth in the finals of the 500 free and dropped two seconds from her school record in the prelims by swimming a 4:41.82. Grigg also jumped to the number two spot on Northwestern's all-time list in the 200 free with her career-best and NCAA `A' mark time of 1:46.82,
Wong, Shishkoff, Lightbourne and Engstrom added to Northwestern's All-America title count by participating on relays. Hupman, Lightbourne, Engstrom and Wong went 1:30.51 to take 16th-place in the 200 free relay. The time of 3:18.76 swum by Hupman, Wong, Lightbourne and Shishkoff in the 400 free relay was fast enough for 14th-place. Northwestern's best relay finish at the meet was 10th in the 800 free relay. The team of Grigg, Wong, Hupman and Shishkoff went 7:08.52 and broke the school record for the second time during the season. All three relays were awarded honorable mention All-America status. Northwestern's team ranking of 19th in the country was its highest place since finishing sixth in 2000.
Northwestern's 6-4 dual meet record prepared the team for their championship season successes. In November, the `Cats defeated Purdue for the first time in five seasons with a final score of 154-146. The meet came down to the last event, the 400 free relay, where the team of Wong, Hupman, Fry and Shishkoff sealed the win for the `Cats by finishing three seconds ahead of Purdue's relay. At the end of November, the team earned 10 NCAA `B' provisional times throughout the three days of competition at the Georgia Invitational. Northwestern took third at the meet behind then-ranked No. 1 Georgia and No. 15 Virginia.
The `Cats' final dual meet of the season against Ohio State ended with a 167-133 victory over the Buckeyes. Hupman, Braun and Shishkoff earned a total of five NCAA `B' qualifying times in five different events, and the team's 1-2 finish in the last event of the meet, the 200 free relay, ensured their victory.
The `Cats return seven of their nine NCAA qualifiers for the 2008-09 season and all but one of their All-Americans. Despite its outstanding performance this year, it is obvious that the team's best is yet to come.