After being shut out of the top two in all three of her individual events at last year’s Big Ten Championships, sophomore swimmer Beata Nelson knew it was time to drop the hammer and show the conference and the country what she could do. While breaking three school records and two Big Ten records, Nelson led the No. 23 Badgers to a fifth-place finish in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday.
Nelson’s record-breaking performance started in the 200-yard individual medley on Thursday night, where she went wire-to-wire with Michigan’s Siobhan Haughey, going under 1:54 for the first time ever. Haughey won the race in 1:53.59, but Nelson was equally impressive for second place in 1:53.85, a school record and NCAA automatic qualification. Sophomore teammate Megan Doty was not far behind, finishing seventh in 1:57.04 for a personal best.
Mere minutes after that, Nelson put up a leadoff leg for the ages in the 400-yard medley relay, which placed third overall. Nelson’s 49.78 100 backstroke split is a school and Big Ten record, the second fastest in history, and nine hundredths of a second off of Ally Howe’s American record.
Nelson kept the ball rolling on Friday when she won the individual 100-yard backstroke with a time of 51.05, earning her first solo Big Ten title. Joined by juniors Katie Coughlin and Jess Unicomb in sixth and seventh place, the podium was filled with Badgers.
"That was amazing," Nelson told UWBadgers.com after her win Friday. "I've been waiting to stand up there with a medal around my neck my whole life. And to do it representing Wisconsin was truly awesome … I've always dreamed of wearing that 'W.’ And to be able to say that I'm from Wisconsin, I represent Wisconsin and that I was able to win a Big Ten title for them — it's truly a dream come true."
Nelson, Coughlin and Unicomb also teamed up on Saturday to score 81 points for the Badgers in the 200-yard backstroke, with Nelson winning in 1:49.59 for a new school and Big Ten record, while Coughlin and Unicomb took fifth and sixth. Coughlin’s time of 1:54.03 vaulted the transfer from Alabama into the record books, as it was the fifth-fastest performance of all-time in a Badger cap.
Saturday also saw an 8-9-10 finish for Wisconsin in the 100-yard freestyle, with senior captain Marissa Berg leading the charge in 48.95 seconds. She was followed by junior Emmy Sehmann in 49.08 and senior Abby Jagdfeld in 49.18. Jagdfeld also had a lightning-fast swim in the 200-yard freestyle earlier in the meet, placing fifth on Friday and beating out former training partner Kaersten Meitz of Purdue.
Junior Ariana Saghafi also unleashed a dominant swim Saturday, winning the consolation final of the 200-yard butterfly in 1:56.53. Her 9th-place performance in the grueling event is the second fastest in school history, trailing only now-graduated Dana Grindall.
All five of Wisconsin’s relays met the auto-qualification standard for next month’s NCAA Championships, with the 400-yard freestyle relay of Berg, Sehmann, Jagdfeld and Unicomb leading the way with a fast third-place finish to finish out the meet.
Junior Hazel Hertting and freshmen Claire Boschee and Paige Richardson led Wisconsin in diving, with Richardson taking 26th in the platform discipline, Hertting taking 21st in the 1-meter and Boschee taking 23rd in the 3-meter.
The University of Michigan took the team title for the third year running, as its depth in nearly every event with multiple women on the podium was unmatched. Wisconsin scored 755 points, which is a good sign heading into NCAA’s next month as many of the women who scored points will be competing there.
The next action for the Badger women will be on March 5-7 when Wisconsin’s six divers will travel to Minneapolis for the Zone D NCAA qualifiers.