Twenty minutes after winning his first race in a Wisconsin cap, junior swimmer Tyler Zelen lost his goggles on the dive in for the 100-yard freestyle. Although he got dead last in that particular race, Zelen showed his grit as he continued without his goggles and ultimately turned in a solid time of 49.87 seconds.
“When something like that happens it kind of throws you off,” head coach Whitney Hite said. “But he didn’t stop trying and I thought he came back and did a nice job on the [400-yard freestyle] relay at the end.”
Perseverance was the name of the game for the No. 25/No. 12 Badgers (0-2 men, 0-2 women) as they fell to the No.8/No.4 Georgia Bulldogs (2-0, 2-0) at the Natatorium Thursday night. Wisconsin, who was competing without its top swimmer, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Cierra Runge, struggled to close the gap against the Bulldogs who made their first-ever trip to Madison. Wisconsin did, however, put up a solid effort despite competing without Runge.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been this close to a top-five team before which was super awesome for us,” said junior Emmy Sehmann. “We’re really moving forward and it’s been exciting.”
Wisconsin had 11 event wins and showed Hite some promising progress.
“I would say 80 percent of our performances were better than last week, in a slower pool, and you can’t ask for more than that,” Hite said. “I think we did a better job of competing this week than last week.”
Sehmann was a force to be reckoned with, taking the wins in the 50 and 100-yard freestyles, while beating out Georgia’s star sprinter Veronica Burchill at the touch in both races.
“It was pretty exciting for me,” Sehmann said. “I’ve never been really super competitive in a dual meet and it’s been fun this year to be able to step up for the team and get my hand on the wall first.”
Before losing his goggles, Zelen, a transfer from North Dakota, got his first win as a Badger when he teamed up with junior Jon Salomon for a 1-2 sweep in the 50-yard freestyle.
“I felt really accomplished, like I’m hitting my stride here,” Zelen said. “It was a ton of fun [going 1-2 with Salomon]. It was a really fun moment for both of us.”
Freshman Matthew Novinski also surprised many at the Nat by beating Georgia senior Jay Litherland, an Olympian, in the 100-yard backstroke and going wire-to-wire with him to take second in the 200-yard backstroke.
“It’s humbling,” Novinski said of his success against Litherland. “It’s pretty cool to just be in the same pool as a guy like that and to be able to compete with him like I did today. I was happy with it.”
On the boards, junior Andrew Pearce knocked down a 27-year-old pool record in the one-meter diving event. The record, set by UW alumnus Terry Butler, had stood strong since 1990.
“[Getting the record] was really awesome,” Pearce said. “Georgia’s a really great team and to win, it feels amazing. We’ve put in a lot of really hard work over the past month and a half, it was really gratifying.”
Wisconsin looks to continue growing and competing next week with a two-day dual against No. 5/No. 8 North Carolina State on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 27 and 28.
“NC State is another super tough team and they’re always really fast in season,” Sehmann said. “We’re just going to compete hard and see what we can do.”