Déjà vu: Kansas visits old foe Nebraska

LAWRENCE, Kan. – When Kansas swimming and diving takes on the University of Nebraska Saturday, many Jayhawks will be experiencing the Devaney Center Natatorium for the first time. However, head coach Clark Campbell and assistant coach Jen Betz, both former Kansas swimmers, will see the vestiges of a classic rivalry, recently renewed.

The last time Kansas made the trek to Lincoln was in January of 2011. KU hosted the Cornhuskers a year later before a three-year hiatus from the rivalry caused by Nebraska’s departure to the Big Ten. The two schools rekindled their rivalry last season, when Kansas hosted Nebraska in a 180.5-119.5 victory. Both teams enter the meet 3-0 and though none of the swimmers can speak on the intensity of the annual competitions between the two schools, their coaches certainly can.

“It’s definitely a rivalry meet,” stated Campbell. “This goes all the way back to the coaches’ days as swimmers here in the Big 8. Nebraska, Kansas swimming were always chief rivals back in the Big 8 days. They were always vying for the first or second spot in the Big 8 Conference at their championship meet and had a tremendous rivalry.”

Kansas won 10 out of the 16 events in last year’s meet, including eight out of 12 individual races. However, four of those individual wins were by Jayhawks who have since graduated, putting more pressure on these Jayhawks to step up.

Based on Kansas’ start to the season, there should be no reason to doubt the 2016-17 team. Sophomore Haley Bishop is undefeated in individual events thus far, with her fantastic performance earning her an early CSCAA Big 12 Swimmer of the Week on Tuesday. She contributed one individual win in the 100 butterfly in last year’s meet against Nebraska. Impressive performances by Bishop’s fellow underclassmen in the team’s opening competitions give fans reason to be excited about not only future seasons, but the present one as well.

“The freshman have really come in and the sophomores have had a year of growth and maturity,” Campbell said. “Seeing our younger Jayhawks perform the way they’ve done up to this point has been really, really inspiring. The juniors and seniors, they kind of know what the season entails. They’re veterans and they know it is a process and there is a peak at the end. They definitely improved from the first meet to the second meet, so we want to keep their improvement going as well.”

Lincoln will be the first road meet for Kansas, who was 3-3 in away duals last season. The Jayhawks will be stuffing the meet into a day trip, getting in and out of Nebraska almost as quickly as they do the pool.

“We just do it quick and fast and get in and out,” said Campbell. “It’ll be interesting to see how everyone responds to that. The upperclassmen know, they know this is kind of what we do and they’re ready for it. For the freshman this is their first road trip and a rivalry meet, that type of thing. So it will be interesting to see how all of us respond to a lot of different things thrown our way.”

Followers should expect a batch of heated races Saturday, as the top times for both squads in multiple events are just tenths of a second apart, particularly in the 100 fly where Nebraska’s Erin Oeltjen (56.57) holds a one-hundredth of a second advantage over Bishop (56.58) at this point of the season. In the 200-yard backstroke, Kansas freshman and Nebraska native Elizabeth Amato-Hanner’s (2:04.09) top swim this season is just two-hundredths of a second slower than UNL’s Carla Gonzalez (2:04.07).  

Though the rivalry in the pool is starting its second iteration, from Campbell’s perspective, the rivalry never ended.

“We know more about Nebraska, even in our days, because we recruit against them so much,” Campbell said. “We’re very similar. We’re state institutions, we’re women’s only. We’re in big conferences, we’re kind of the flagship schools of the state. So we compete against them a lot in a lot of different areas, more than just swimming. We know their team very well. We know their coaching staff very well. Our other chief rival is Iowa State. We perhaps know each team equally, that’s how much we keep up-to-date with them. We actually recruit more against Nebraska than we do Iowa State. So we know them really well and we know how good they are. They’ve had some good talent upgrades and it’s going to be a very challenging Saturday.”

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