One of the biggest perks for the No. 17/No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers this season is the top talent they face every time they get in the pool to compete. They have already had strong showings against three ranked teams, and look to continue that success against No. 7/No. 8 Georgia in Athens.
A lot has changed for the Badgers between now and their meet against No. 3/No.4 North Carolina State, including the fact that they have lost a major piece of their men’s lineup. Junior Nathan Mueller, a distance swimmer who helped the Badger men win the 4x200-meter freestyle relay at the 2015 U.S. National Championships, is no longer with the team. Mueller is the second upperclassman to leave the Badgers this year, as senior butterfly specialist Chris Scheaffer also departed before the season began.
UW left Raleigh Oct. 22 with only two event wins against an extremely strong Wolfpack team, but swept the Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after strong performances from Beata Nelson and Kevin Pomeroy.
Waiting for the Badgers in Athens is an Olympian-laden Georgia team whose women won the national championship last season, with the men finishing in fifth place. On the women’s side, the Bulldogs have not lost a home dual in 101 consecutive meets, so both teams will certainly be bringing their A-game to either snap the streak or keep it alive.
On paper, it seems clear that the men have more to worry about than the women, with four Olympians, including two medalists in senior Chase Kalisz and junior Gunnar Bentz, on the Georgia roster. Kalisz specializes in the individual medleys, events that are notably weaker ones for the Badgers. Bentz, who is also an IM-swimmer, will go head-to-head with Badger seniors Brett Pinfold and Cannon Clifton in the 200-yard freestyle in what will be one of the most exciting battles of the two-day dual. The Georgia men also field a three-headed monster in the distance events in junior triplets Jay, Mick and Kevin Litherland. The three will provide a true test for junior Victor Goicoechea and senior Matt Hutchins to gauge how well they are faring at this point in the season.
The most exciting matchup for the women will once again feature Nelson, as she goes head-to-head with Georgia senior Olivia Smoliga in the 100-yard backstroke. Smoliga, an Olympian and 2016 NCAA Champion in both the 50- and 100-yard freestyles, will face off against senior Chase Kinney and sophomore Emmy Sehmann, who have both had phenomenal starts to their seasons so far, in the sprints. Joining Smoliga, Sehmann and Kinney in those races will be Georgia senior Chantal Van Landeghem, a Canadian Olympian who took an Olympic redshirt last season and has not raced Kinney head-to-head since very early in their respective college careers.
The meet starts on Friday at 3 p.m. in Athens and will continue Saturday at 9 a.m.