Every four years at the conclusion of the Summer Olympic Games, swimming fans find themselves wondering how to capture the same excitement that they felt during those events. Disappointingly, that quest is hard to satisfy for most. For fans of the Northwestern Wildcats, however, those thrills can be found right on the beloved Evanston campus. All it takes is a short walk over to the Norris Aquatic Center on race day, and that quadrennial elation comes rushing back.
Under the tutelage of 11-time All-American and Director of Swimming and Diving Katie Robinson, the Northwestern Swimming and Diving team has reached new heights. Robinson, who is one of only six Power Five female head coaches, has overseen multiple All-Americans, Big Ten medalists and school record holders, leading them to successful seasons year-in and year-out. For an athletics department that can struggle with sustained success (*cough cough* football *cough cough*), this program has been one of Northwestern’s most consistent, and the 2021-22 season was no different. Let’s get into last year’s results for each half of the program and see where things stand going into the 2022-23 season.
Women’s Swimming and Diving
The women’s team had a successful 2021-22 season, going 5-2 with a notable win against rival Illinois and a dominating 295-42 victory over Iowa, as well as a first-place finish at the Purdue Invitational. Moving on to the postseason, the ‘Cats finished fifth at the Big Ten Conference Championships and 18th-place at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, a strong follow up to a 16th-place finish at the same meet the season before. Their only meet losses came at hands of Indiana and Wisconsin, who both placed higher than Northwestern at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships.
On an individual level, this past season saw multiple medals earned and school records smashed. At the Big Ten Conference Championships, the team received three silver and four bronze medals. The 31-woman team proceeded to send 12 swimmers and divers to the NCAA Championships, headlined by a swath of school record holders, as well as impressive underclassmen that will lead the program in the coming seasons. Of those 12, three were named All-Americans. Graduate student Sophie Angus became a three-time All-American in the 100 Breaststroke, while sophomore Lola Mull repeated as an All-American in the 1650 Freestyle. Senior Tara Vovk also earned her first All-American Honors in the 100 Breaststroke. En route to their All-American honors, Angus and Vovk both broke Northwestern records. Vovk broke the school’s 100 Breaststroke record during prelims, and Angus proceeded to break Vovk’s new record by 0.01 seconds during the championship race. The team also had a number of Honorable Mention All-Americans, both for individuals and relay teams. Mull earned additional honors in the 500 Freestyle and junior Markie Hopkins was honored for her performance in Platform Diving. The 200 Medley team composed of Vovk, graduate student Maddie Smith, junior Emma Lepisova and senior Miriam Guevara. The 400 Medley team of Vovk, Smith, Guevara, and Angus also received Honorable Mentions.
Looking Toward the 2022-23 Season
Continuing on past successes is the name of the game for the ‘Cats. They will be returning eight of their 12 NCAA competitors, as well as eight school record holders in juniors Jasmine Nocetini (50 Free, 200 Medley Relay, 200 Free Relay, 800 Free Relay), Selen Ozbilen (400 Free Relay), Annika Wagner (400 Free Relay, 800 Free Relay) and Mull (500 Free, 1000 Free, 1650 Free, 800 Free Relay), as well as seniors Hannah Brunzell (200 Breast), Ally Larson (200 Free Relay, 400 Free Relay, 800 Free Relay) and Lepisova (200 Back, 200 Medley Relay, 400 Medley Relay). The eighth returning swimmer is Guevara (100 Fly, 200 Fly, 400 Medley Relay), who announced just before the 2022-23 school year that she would be returning for a fifth year.
Out of the other four NCAA competitors, the triplet of Hellmer, Angus and Smith graduated in 2022, and Vovk will be competing for the University of Miami as a grad transfer this season. They left the program in good hands, however. Sophomores Justine Murdock and Ashley Strouse already have an NCAA Championships appearance under their belts. Other team members spent their summers competing internationally at the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest. Senior diver Jaye Patrick represented Latvia, while sophomore Kenisha Gupta swam for the Indian National Team. The 2022-23 team will also be bolstered by a strong class of incoming first-years, including Ohio Swimmer of the Year Riley Huddleston, who will look to fill Smith’s role in the collection of freestyle relays, and two-time USA Swimming Scholastic All-American Hana Shimzu-Bowers, who finished her recruiting cycle as the number one recruit in the state of New York, according to Swimcloud.
Within the Big Ten, strong competition from the likes of Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana, and Wisconsin should be expected. All four of those teams finished ahead of the ‘Cats at the 2022 NCAA Championships, which should make for an exciting Big Ten Conference Championships next spring. Time will tell if the production of school record holders Angus and Smith can be replaced, but this upcoming season looks promising. The top three of the conference will be hard to crack, so a fourth or fifth place finish rather than immense regression seems likely. The College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) had the team 18th in their preseason rankings, so they seem to be optimistic about this season for the ‘Cats
Onto the other half of the pool.
Men’s Swimming and Diving
The 2021-22 season was a little rougher for the Men’s team, but it still had plenty of individual bright spots. The ‘Cats went 2-2 in their meets, with wins over University of Illinois Chicago and Minnesota and losses to Indiana and Wisconsin. They also came in third at the Purdue Invitational. The postseason left some to be desired, as Northwestern finished sixth at the Big Ten Championships and 32nd at the NCAA Championships.
Individually, multiple swimmers and divers broke school records over the course of the year. Connor LaMastra broke teammate and Olympic Bronze Medalist Federico Burdisso’s 200 Fly record, while Burdisso broke the record in the 100 Fly. More intra-team record breaking occurred on the 3-meter diving board, with Evan Labuda breaking the school record early in the season, and Yohan Eskrick-Parkinson one-upping him later in the season to take the title. If you want to get even more internal, the 200 Medley Relay team of Kevin Houseman, Manuel Martos Bacarizo, Burdisso and Andrew Zhang broke their own school record that they set earlier in the year. Houseman also broke a 15-year-old record set by Olympian Mike Alexandrov in the 100 Breast, and then broke his own record at the Big Ten Championships. Unfortunately, all of this record breaking did not help Northwestern win any medals at either the Big Ten Championships or the NCAA Championships. Houseman did earn an All-American Honorable Mention for the 100 Breast, which earned the ‘Cats their first points at the NCAA Championships since 2017.
Looking Toward the 2022-23 Season
The ‘Cats will be looking to capitalize on what is likely their last season with school record holders Houseman (100 Breast, 200 Medley Relay), Burdisso (200 Free, 100 Fly, 200 Medley Relay), Aleksa Bobar (800 Free Relay), and Ben Forbes (800 Free Relay) on the squad. Losing LaMastra, Bacarizo, Zhang, Eskrick-Parkinson and Labuda hurts, but the team added five first-years, including Matthew Lucky, who will look to be Houseman’s replacement in the breaststroke in the years to come, and Tonahuc Zinn, who was a top 20 recruit as a high school junior. Sophomores Tyler Lu, who was a two-time race winner in the 200 and 400 IM, and Connor Morikawa, who competed at the NCAA Championships, will attempt to make up some of that production as well. It’s also worth noting that Burdisso should also be in good form given that he helped power Italy to a 400 IM world championship over the summer at the 2022 World Aquatics Championships in Budapest.
Time will tell if this turnover will be enough to impact Northwestern’s standing both in the Big Ten and nationally. The CSCAA gave the squad their vote of confidence, ranking them 24th in the nation to start the season.
The team will be competing in six events throughout the end of 2022, the first of which is Saturday, Oct. 29th. The ‘Cats are keeping things inside the state to start the season as they host UIC and Illinois at the Norris Aquatic Center starting at 11 a.m. CDT. Swimming is included in the University’s free admission endeavor, so head over to the pool on Saturday to watch the Wildcats in action.
After hosting this meet to dive into the season, the ‘Cats will be headed on a national tour. They will keep affairs in the Big Ten to start, travelling to Michigan to take on the Wolverines on Nov. 5th before heading to the annual Purdue Invitational on Nov. 16th-18th. The Wildcats will then head to the East Coast, hitting North Carolina first for the Toyota US Open (Dec. 1st-3rd). They will then make their way down to the Sunshine state to close out the year by competing against Miami and Army on Dec. 17th in Coral Gables. The final meet will be the CSCAA Open Water Championships in Biscayne Bay on Dec. 19.