AquaHawks see progress, despite first glance at records

BY EVELYN LAU | MARCH 26, 2009 7:40 AM

On the outside, it may not seem as though the Iowa women’s swimming and diving team made too much of an improvement over last year.

However, a closer look might reveal otherwise.

While the AquaHawks went 7-5 (2-4 in the Big Ten) this season en route to finishing ninth at the Big Ten championships, the overall record hardly shows the progress that has been made in one of the toughest swimming conferences in the country.

“I thought [the season] went really well,” senior Ashley Dell said. “Everyone had goals, and everyone ended up doing really well. It’s hard because the Big Ten is so competitive, so even though we got ninth place, which is the same as last year, I think as a team, we still were able to improve a little bit.”

The AquaHawks kicked off their season with a win against Truman State before falling to Wisconsin. Iowa then regrouped by winning the next two meets, against Michigan State and Nebraska.

After a 185-110.5 loss to No. 12 Minnesota, the team turned its attention to the three-day, eight-team Missouri Invitational. The AquaHawks managed an impressive second-place finish, led by sophomore Katarina Tour, who took in the 100 backstroke (1:03.21) and was a member of the victorious 200 medley team (1:42.43).

“We only rested a little bit, but everyone stepped up and did awesome,” Dell said. “People were getting best-times all over the place and beating the Missouri girls — I really thought that was our turning point almost in the season.”

The momentum carried over as the AquaHawks defeated the Cyclones, 196-104, gaining some redemption for last season’s loss to Iowa State.

“We were really determined to beat them this year,” sophomore Verity Hicks said. “We went in there coming off the Missouri Invitational, where we all swam really well, so we were just all really motivated and pumped up. I thought that was a really good meet as a whole team.”

After wins against Western Illinois and Illinois, the true tests came against No. 20 Northwestern and No. 28 Missouri. Despite some strong individual performances, they weren’t enough to help Iowa pull upsets, and the team lost both meets.

Hosting Northwestern, sophomore diver Veronica Rydze took her first career victory, and teammate and junior Deidre Freeman come in second in the 3 meter. Tour also had the only individual first-place finish in the 200 individual medley.

A week later, when Missouri came to town, the AquaHawks opened the meet with a first in the 200 medley, but Missouri had too much firepower and came away with the victory.

Heading into the Big Ten championships, in Ann Arbor, Mich., Iowa knew it was viewed as an underdog. While the AquaHawks did finish ninth, seven school records fell. Junior Christine Kuczek broke her own mark in the 100 freestyle (50.21), and Tour set records in the 200 individual medley (2:01.33) and 100 breaststroke (1:01.95). The relay teams also had an impressive showing, with the 100 freestyle, 400 freestyle, and 200 medley relay teams all breaking school records. Diver Freeman earned the Iowa Highest Point Award for netting 16 points, for finishing eighth on the 3 meter and 12th on the 1 meter.

Despite the loss of seniors Dell, Allison Gschwend, Leah Schwartz, and diver Aimee Moylan, the future still seems bright.

“I think [the Hawkeyes are] definitely going to improve a lot,” Dell said. “They’re on the right track, they have been now for a year, and it’s only going to keep getting better, especially with the new pool coming in. They’re definitely moving into the right direction. I’m excited to see what happens.”

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