Time to dive into swimming season.
Northwestern’s men’s and women’s swimming and divining teams traveled to Ohio for a Friday night dual meet matchup against Cincinnati, and then a Saturday morning meet versus Miami (OH). While the men excelled, beating Cincinnati 169-93 and then dominating Miami 204-96, the women were defeated by Cincinnati 163-99 but bounced back to beat Miami 161.5-137.5. These meets marked Northwestern’s first competitions under head coach Rachel Stratton-Mills.
NU’s times from the Miami meet were generally faster than those at the Cincinnati meet; however, it’s worth noting the team was wearing racing suits in the former meet but practice suits in the latter meet.
Full results for both meets can be found on the app MeetMobile.
Fifth-year Ayla Spitz and sophomore Hana Shimizu-Bowers were the two Wildcat event winners against Cincinnati. Spitz took home the 100 backstroke, 200 backstroke, and 200 individual medley and Shimizu-Bowers taking the 200 butterfly and 500 freestyle. The 500 free race came down to the wire—Shmizu-Bowers knocked off Cincinnati’s Libby Michel by just 0.01 of a second to win.
However, Northwestern was completely out-matched by Cincinnati throughout the meet. The Bearcats didn’t just score off of event wins, but they also had significantly more depth.
UC made up at least three out of the five points-scorers in 10 out of 14 individual events (in dual meets, the top five finishers in each individual event earn points), finished in first and second in three individual events, and put on a clinic in the 1000 free, where they were responsible for the top four finishers.
It also didn’t help that Cincinnati won both relays, which are worth more points than individual wins.
There were some races that could have gone in Northwestern’s favor if they just swam a few tenths faster, such as the 50, 100, and 200 free events. In the 50 and 100 free, Wildcat sophomore Linsday Ervin finished second to Cincinnati's Jessica Davis twice, by 0.37 seconds in the 50 and then by 0.11 seconds (ouch) in the 100. In the 200, NU freshman Sydney Smith had been leading for the first 150 yards of the race, but Davis ran her down on the final lap to out-touch her by 0.63 seconds.
Had those sprint freestyle races gone in Northwestern’s favor, Cincinatti's margin of victory would have decreased by a whole 30 points; however, that still is far from what it would have taken to flip the final result.
At Miami (OH)
The ‘Cats performed better on Saturday, but the Redhawks gave them a scare early on in the meet.
To kick things off, Miami beat Northwestern in the 400-medley relay by over a second, powered by a speedy 47.97 freestyle leg from All-American Nicole Maier. Then, the Redhawks won four of the next six events and were leading the Wildcats headed into the first diving break. The two events that Northwestern won during this stretch of the meet were the 1000 free and 100 breast, with Shmizu-Bowers taking the former event and freshman Maggie Papanicholas taking the latter. Putting Shmizu-Bowers, arguably the team’s top distance swimmer, in the 1000 was a smart choice by the coaching staff, as the Wildcats were able to avert the scoring disaster that happened in the same event against Cincinnati.
NU then went on a six-event win streak, putting itself in the lead. Fifth-year Markie Hopkins swept the diving events, Spitz took the 500 free, and Paponicholas won the 200 breast. The 200 back was Northwestern’s best event of the night, as the Wildcats swept the podium. Junior Justine Murdock, who finished fifth in the same event against Cincinnati, swam six seconds faster than she did the night before to win the 200 back. Ervin also finally got a victory after losing two close matchups against Cincinnati, taking the 100 free by over a second and being the only woman in the field under 50 seconds.
Miami’s Maier picked up her third win of the night in the 400 IM, but NU closed things off with a bang by winning the 200 free relay, finishing the weekend even at 1-1.
On the men’s side, Northwestern took care of Cincinnati handily, winning all but two of the 16 contested events and sweeping both relays. Junior Tyler Lu led the charge by winning three events, touching the wall first in the 100 back, 200 back, and 200 IM. Freshmen Diego Nosack and Cade Duncan both took two events apiece, with Nosack winning the 200 fly and 500 free and Duncan winning the 50 and 100 free.
Duncan, SwimSwam.com’s #18-ranked recruit in the high school class of 2023, posted some promising times in the sprint events. His 20.39 50 free was faster than the times of all but one Northwestern swimmer (senior Collin Schuster) at the Big Ten Championships last season, which is impressive considering that he posted the time in mid-October in a practice suit. In addition, his 44.33 100 free from leading off the 400 free relay was faster than any other returning swimmer’s 2022-23 season-best.
Other event winners included fifth-year Kevin Houseman in the 100 breast, fifth-year Andrew Martin in the 1000 free, and fifth-year Jan Karolczak in the 200 free.
‘At Miami (OH)
Against Miami, the Northwestern men performed even better than they did against the Bearcats. They claimed victory in all but three events, won both contested relays, and held the Redhawks to double-digit points.
At this meet, Northwestern made a major impact, putting up two performances that ranked top ten nationally. The first one came from Martin, who took nearly eight seconds off his personal best time in the 1000 free to clock a time of 9:04.24, which ranks him fifth in the NCAA right now. Though the 1000 free isn’t raced at championship meets, his performance bodes well for his 1650 free ability come time for Big Ten competition.
Martin, a graduate transfer from Xavier, will look to boost Northwestern men’s distance swimming, which has been weak even since team record holder and Olympian Jordan Wilimovsky graduated back in 2017.
The second top-ten performance was via Houseman, who clocked a 53.42 in the 100 breast to make himself the sixth-fastest performer in the nation for the event. Houseman also won the 200 breast, posting his fastest time in the event (1:56.80) since setting his personal best back in February 2022.
Other event winners included freshman David Gerchik (100 back, 200 back), sophomore Tona Zinn (200 fly), fifth-year Ben Forbes (500 free), Nosack (400 IM), and Karolczak (200 back). In the 100 back, 200 back, 200 breast, and 400 IM, Northwestern produced the top three finishers.
It’s never good to draw immediate conclusions from the first competition of the season, but Northwestern’s opening weekend taught us a lot about both swim teams.
We got to see just how much losing nearly all of their NCAA qualifiers last season hurt the Northwestern women, as they went from a top 25 team two seasons ago to a team that faced an uphill climb against a mid-major program and lost badly to another program that had been a mid-major up until this season. I’m not ruling out the potential of the ‘Cats bouncing back to have a great postseason, and they certainly are capable of swimming faster than they did last weekend, but their early performances have me worried about how they will fare against considerably better programs—such as No. 3 Louisville at the Purdue Invite next month and No. 12 Wisconsin at a dual meet in January.
On the other hand, it was nice to see the men's team get some momentum rolling after how much they struggled last season. The highly-anticipated freshman class performed very well, as Duncan, Nosack, and Gerchik all won events on opening weekend. Obviously, we can’t fully evaluate how much the freshmen lived up to their hype until we see them perform at bigger meets like Big Tens and the NCAA Championships, but this is a good start.
Next up, the Wildcats will have their home opener on Oct. 21, where they will take on Southern Illinois and Miami (FL) in a tri-meet.