Kansas Classic records fall, Jayhawks finish as runner-up

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TOPEKA, Kan. – Libby Walker smashed the 1,650-yard freestyle and Kansas’ A Relay set a new mark in the 400-yard freestyle, but the Jayhawks were unable to overtake a tough Nebraska squad for the team title at the Kansas Classic inside Capitol Federal Natatorium Sunday. Nebraska tallied 975 points during the three-day, championship-style meet, holding off Kansas (958) at the top of the leaderboard with Iowa State (520.5), Northern Iowa (404), Northern Arizona (353) and Arkansas-Little Rock (233.5) following.

 Libby Walker set a meet record in the mile.Walker, who finished second in Swimmer of the Meet scoring to Nebraska’s Tori Beeler, provided one of the highlights of the weekend to open Sunday’s final session when she beat the mile freestyle field by 17 seconds and the meet record by nearly 12 seconds as she swam a 16:36.09. It was the first of two meet records to be claimed by KU during the session with the 400-yard freestyle relay team of Haley Bishop, Carly Straight, Breonna Barker and Yulya Kuchkarova posting a 3:23.60 to top a four-year-old mark set by Notre Dame (3:25.23) in 2012.
“It was really solid,” Campbell said of the meet. “We’re further ahead than where we were last year. To finish as strong as we did, especially with the 800 free, then coming back in the morning with the 400 free this afternoon was a good way to end the championship and really in a sense, ends our fall preparation.”
Walker and Bishop were named to the twelve-member Kansas Classic Meet All-Stars, joining Beeler and her Nebraska teammate Erin Oeltjen, Arkansas-Little Rock’s Tory Fryan and Jinson Kang, Iowa State’s Kasey Roberts and Keely Soellner, Northern Arizona’s Kimmy Richter and Alina Staffeldt, and Northern Iowa’s Molly Lembezeder and Katie Taylor. Both Jayhawks were among the top five individual scorers of the meet.
“Our sophomore class is just so strong,” Campbell said. “What you saw this weekend is what they do every day in practice – they go, train hard and compete and they want to get better. Seeing them do as well as they did this weekend, along with their teammates makes us feel really good about where we are right now.”
Walker led from the outset of the 1,650 free, turning in the only sub-28 second split in the first 50 yards and consistently stayed in the 30-low range for most of her splits. Nebraska’s Kaylyn Flatt was the closest finisher at 16:53.53 and the only other swimmer under 17 minutes. Walker’s time would’ve ranked ninth in the country headed into this weekend, with many teams – and Stanford freshman Katie Ledecky who set the NCAA mark for the mile – swimming their fall championship meets over the weekend.
“For me, being out in the lead was fun during that race,” Walker said. “It felt really good. The time wasn’t quite where I wanted to be, but for this time out, I think it was really good.”
Less than 24 hours after Kuchkarova took down her meet record in the 100-yard backstroke, Nebraska’s Oeltjen lowered the 200-yard back mark with a 1:56.12 in Sunday morning’s prelims before holding off Kuchkarova (1:58.07) and KU’s Pia Pavlic (1:59.62) with a first-place finals swim of 1:56.96. Pavlic, who never won an individual event during the meet, turned in a quietly excellent three days and closed the meet as the fifth-leading point scorer among all competitors.
In the third event of the session, Kansas’ Carly Straight turned in a lifetime best in the 100-yard freestyle to easily win the ‘B’ final by nearly one second and her time of 50.65 was the fastest of the day. However, Julia Roller swam a 50.92 to win the ‘A’ final and add to Nebraska’s point total.
Still, Kansas remained in contention just nine points back of the Huskers with three events to go. Nebraska widened the gap to 33 when Jordan Ehly won the 200-yard breaststroke in 2:13.95, followed closely by Northern Arizona’s Urte Kazakeviciute (2:14.34) and Beeler (2:15.13). The top Jayhawk finisher was freshman Haley Downey, who swam a life-time best 2:16.64 to place fourth.
Dana Posthuma was the only Nebraska swimmer in the 200-yard butterfly, but used another meet record (1:59.50) to win the event ahead of NAU’s Alina Staffeldt (2:00.18) and KU’s Bishop (2:01.93). At that point in the team standings, Kansas trailed Nebraska by 21 points and even a meet-record finish in the 400 free relay couldn’t bridge the gap.   
Bishop helped with relay victories and contributed significant points for the Jayhawks, but hopes to use the runner-up finish as a team and several as an individual as motivation as Kansas shifts into the winter training portion of its season while turning sights ultimately on the Big 12 Championship in February.
“I’ll make sure I watch all the races and remind myself that this is not going to be where I’m at at the end of the season, this is more of a benchmark,” Bishop said. “I think we all have to make sure that, although we’re not satisfied and we might be upset at some races, that we have so much further to go. This is just a fraction of what we can do at Big 12s. I’m really excited for the end of this season.”
The swimmers will have off until their double dual against Boise State and UCLA on January 6. Diving coach Gabe Downey will take his divers to Minneapolis, Minnesota to compete in the Jean Freeman Invitational from December 2-4.

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