Underdog AquaHawks determined heading into Big Ten championships

EVELYN LAU

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Underdogs all season, the members of the Iowa women’s swimming and diving team feel as though they have something to prove.

The AquaHawks will compete in the Big Ten championships in Ann Arbor, Mich., this week, hoping to improve on last year’s ninth-place finish.

“We’re excited,” head coach Marc Long said. “We’re bringing a smaller team with real hungry women.”

At last year’s meet, then-freshman Katarina Tour was the team’s top individual performer, finishing sixth in the 100 breaststroke (1:02.51) and swimming in the 400-medley, 400-freestyle, 200-freestyle, and 200-medley relay teams.

Then-sophomore Christine Kuczek also had a good meet, finishing 11th in the 100 freestyle while setting an Iowa record in the event with a time of 50.55, breaking former All-American Jennifer Skolaski’s school record by .01 second.

Despite the record-breaking achievement of 2008, Kuczek believes she can improve her performance even more.

“I’d like to obviously swim faster than I did last year [at the tournament],” she said. “I also would really like to go to NCAAs this year. That was one of my goals last year, and I fell short.”

The Iowa divers also hope to make a splash, but they have been slowed by injuries. Senior Aimee Moylan has dealt with a knee injury all season, and sophomore Veronica Rydze recently separated her shoulder. Junior Deidre Freeman, who has been having a breakout season, hasn’t practiced as much as she would have liked because of a cyst on her foot, causing inflammation on the joint.

But she is confident and believes she is healthy enough to have a strong competition.

“[The injury] affected [my diving] a lot,” Freeman said. “I thought it would take me a long time to get back into the mode of practicing and getting ready for a big meet. I’ve only been in the pool doing diving for three or four days, but I just had a really good practice.”

Iowa goes into the Big Ten meet knowing it is viewed as an underdog — five Big Ten teams are ranked in the Top 25. However, the AquaHawks hope to use that as motivation.

“I think always a big obstacle for us is being in the lower part of the Big Ten as far as the rankings go. That’s always something we have to struggle to get by,” Kuczek said. “I think we’ve done a really good job this year with our dual meets and racing people we know are faster than us, and we might be outmatched but just going out there and not letting that hold us back.”

Freeman agrees that not being favored isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I like not being under pressure,” she said. “So I like when I’m under the radar and no one really knows about me.”

Being free from pressure also allows her to clear her mind of distractions between dives.

Iowa brings a smaller contingent than usual to Ann Arbor, which may be a disadvantage.

“For swimming in the Big Ten, there are 11 teams, and they all have at least 26 people at the meet, and for the most part, we’re smaller than that,” Long said. “So it’s a very large meet, a very competitive meet.

“We have some outstanding individuals who I believe are going to score high, and our relays are seeded very well. As far as overall depth, that’s a work in progress.”

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