All season, the No. 12 Wisconsin women’s swimming and diving team has been working toward the elusive goal of winning a Big Ten title. Head coach Whitney Hite believes that this year might be the year his team will finally overtake traditional powerhouses like No. 6 Michigan and No. 15 Indiana and bring home the big prize this week at the Big Ten Championship meet, in West Lafayette, Ind.
“If everything went perfectly, we’d probably win,” Hite said. “The key for us is to be in the conversation. It’s good for us; it shows progress. For [my swimmers], I want them to have success.”
While they aren’t the favorites, the Badgers are in the conversation for the team title, with swimmers and divers who are entered with A-final worthy times in every event.
Leading the charge are sophomores Cierra Runge and Jess Unicomb, seniors Danielle Valley and Chase Kinney and freshman Beata Nelson.
Runge and Valley are in a tight race for the conference title in the 500-yard freestyle with current Big Ten record holder G Ryan of Michigan, who set the conference mark at 4:34.28 two months ago. Runge, who is Ryan’s former training partner, is seeded third with a time of 4:35.55, which is close enough to Ryan to put her right in the mix.
“[G] Ryan is a very good swimmer, and so is Cierra,” Hite said. “It’s going to be good for [Runge] to have that kind of experience, having someone with her the whole way … hopefully she’ll be able to get her hand on the wall first.”
In addition, Kinney and Ohio State junior Liz Li will go head-to-head again in what has been one of the more contentious 50-yard freestyle battles in the country in recent years. Kinney, last year’s runner-up, has always been the bridesmaid and never the bride in this matchup, but comes into the meet with a strong senior season under her belt and tenacity to match. The two will also go head-to-head in the 100-yard freestyle, where Kinney has historically had the upper hand.
Versatile youngsters Unicomb and Nelson are entered in a variety of events, but both hold high seeds in the backstroke events and are expected to find themselves safely in the A-final. Nelson is also one to watch in the 100-yard butterfly, where she is ranked ninth, as she is a national high school record-holder in the event. That being said, she has yet to come close to her top time this season.
Many other swimmers and divers are expected to score points for Hite’s squad, but one name that won’t be on the scoresheet this weekend is sophomore diver Gabby Comunale, who is out for the season after sustaining a concussion prior to a meet against Green Bay. With Comunale out, senior Ashley Peterson and sophomore Alex Hafey will be expected to score the brunt of the diving points for Wisconsin.
In a Daily Cardinal Twitter poll, 43 percent of respondents tapped Michigan, the defending champions, as the toughest challenge for the Badgers. And Olympian-filled Indiana squad saw 31 percent of the vote, while Ohio State and Minnesota ranked third and fourth, respectively.
The @BadgerSwimDive women head to Purdue for the B1G Championships Wednesday. Who's their toughest competition?— DailyCardinal Sports (@Cardinal_Sports) February 12, 2017
Those five programs are all projected to finish within about 100 points of each other, with Wisconsin coming either second or third depending on the projection system, so the team title is truly up for grabs. Hite and the Badgers are hoping to “make it red” and secure one for the history books.