Swimming and Diving closes season with Awards Banquet

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas swimming and diving wrapped a bow on the 2016-17 season on Sunday, holding its annual awards banquet at Lawrence Country Club. The day included brunch by candlelight, thanks to a power outage impacting the area, senior speeches, handing out team awards and announcing the team captains for the 2017-18 season.
After all-nine seniors gave teary-eyed speeches about their time on the team, head coach Clark Campbell handed out six annual team awards. The Diver of the Year award went to senior Amanda Maser. The IronHawk Award, which is chosen by the Kansas strength and conditioning coaches that primarily work with the team, Luke Bradford and Ali Kershner, was given to junior Hannah Driscoll. The Niwot, Colorado native garnered another award on Sunday as well, the Karen Dionne Most Inspirational award. The team’s Academic Award went to senior Hannah Angell, Newcomer of the Year was won by Jenny Nusbaum, and the Tammy Thomas MVP award went to senior Yulduz Kuchkarova.
Following the awards ceremony, Campbell introduced the team captains for next season, Nika Fellows, Nadia Khechfe and Zoya Wahlstrom.
The 2016-17 season was the culmination of Campbell’s vision and drive in more ways than one. Starting with the inaugural College Swimming Coaches of America Open Water Nationals (CSCAA OWN) in September, Kansas set the tone for a successful six months.

The underclassmen trio of Libby Walker, Haley Bishop and Nusbaum provided an exciting finish for the CSCAA OWN, sweeping the top three spots in the women’s competition. Despite swimming for over an hour across five kilometers of Lone Star Lake, sophomores Walker and Bishop were unable to separate from each other. Their simultaneous smack of the finish board called for a video review, which determined that the pair would share the first CSCAA OWN championship. Nusbaum, in her first outdoor swimming event, was right at the co-champions’ heels, recording a swim that was just a half-second behind her fellow Jayhawks. In addition to the CSCAA OWN championship, Bishop and Walker also shared CollegeSwimming.com’s Big 12 Swimmer of the Week honors.

While the CSCAA OWN was a good opportunity to get a glimpse at Nusbuam, her fellow freshmen would wait two more weeks to make their debuts at the Crimson & Blue Instrasquad meet. The underclassmen-laden Blue team streaked to a 70-25 victory over the Crimson squad, an impressive first showing by freshmen Elizabeth Amato-Hanner, Peri Charapich, Haley Downey, T.J. Duckett, Katy Schlies and Carly Straight.

Training continued for three weeks before the dual season officially opened with a double-dual against Missouri State and North Dakota. Kansas left Robinson Natatorium with two wins, recording a score of 136-49 against Missouri State and 122-63 against North Dakota.

Kansas’ first test against Big 12-level competition came in a dual against TCU in Lawrence. In what was perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come later in the season, the Jayhawks sped to a resounding 190-108 win over the Horned Frogs, placing first in 13 of 16 events. Following the TCU meet Bishop gained another Big 12 Swimmer of the Week award, this time from the CSCAA, after winning her first 12 events of the season across three meets.

High off of a season-opening three-meet winning streak, KU hit its first roadblock against fellow unbeaten, Nebraska. After taking two of the first three events, Kansas conceded 13-straight to the Cornhuskers. The 190-108 loss gave the Jayhawks something to stew over for a week before hosting the Kansas Classic, a midseason championship-style meet.

Kansas welcomed five other teams, including Nebraska, to Capitol Federal Natatorium in Topeka, Kansas, for the Kansas Classic. The competition served as a major marking point for the coaches in the season, with Campbell relating it to a midterm exam. In addition to Nebraska, Kansas played host to big 12 foe Iowa State, Northern Arizona, Arkansas-Little Rock and Northern Iowa. Once again, Kansas was unable to overcome Nebraska, finishing second to the Cornhuskers. KU scored 958 points, just 17 shy of Nebraska. Kuchkarova, who swam the 100 and 200-yard backstroke under the NCAA ‘B’ qualifying times in Topeka, was named CollegeSwimming.com’s Big 12 Swimmer of the Week.

With the Kansas Classic being a swimming-only event, it was time for the divers to have their own midyear assessment, the Jean Freeman Invitational. The diving well at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatics Center on the campus of the University of Minnesota was the testing ground for the trio of Charapich, Khechfe and Maser. Though not perfect, the group was able to record top-15 finishes in the one-meter, three-meter and platform dives, earning a ‘B’ grade from Kansas diving coach Gabe Downey. The Jean Freeman Invitational marked the last competition for Kansas swimming and diving in 2016.

With a better understanding of what they needed to improve upon before the Big 12 Conference Championship in February, the Jayhawks opened 2017 with a training trip in California. The trip started with a double-dual against two programs nationally ranked in CollegeSwimming.com’s top-30, UCLA and Boise State. Kansas lost both competitions, dropping its match against Boise State 181-113 and losing to UCLA 202-92.

Kansas went straight from Spieker Aquatics Center in Los Angeles to the University of San Diego’s Sports Center Pool the very next day, a journey traversing over 130 miles. The Jayhawks showed no sign of weariness though and placed first among a field consisting of Colorado State, North Texas and San Diego at the San Diego Shootout, nearly doubling the point total of second-place North Texas (28) with their 53 points. With its California competitions complete, Kansas continued its coastal cruise in cloudless Coronado, California, concluding with a week of outdoor conditioning.

Back in the Midwest 12 days after the San Diego Shootout, Kansas traveled to the Mabee Center in Liberty, Missouri to take on William Jewell in a dual. The Jayhawks dominated with a 124-74 victory, setting eight Mabee Center records along the way. Kansas’ performance was highlighted by Sammie Schurig’s 400-meter freestyle, which at 4:22.33 broke a 35-year old Mabee Center record set at the 1981 NAIA Nationals.

KU’s next test would come against Arkansas in Fayetteville. Though Kansas struggled as a team, winning just three of the meet’s 16 events, the freshmen swam tough, earning two of those wins. One of those freshman wins was supplied by Carly Straight, who captured her first individual victory of the season with the 100-yard free. Despite losing the meet, Campbell liked what he saw from the swimmers in terms of how their performances fit into the overall picture of the season-long process in preparing for the Big 12 Championship. With only one dual meet separating the team from the conference championship, Kansas narrowed its focus to Big 12 swimming, hosting Iowa State for each teams’ final regular season tune-up.

Competing against Iowa State for the second time in the season, Kansas reasserted its dominance over the Cyclones with a 180-114 win. The win cemented a 5-4 dual record for Kansas, its 15th-straight season with a winning dual meet record. With a positive measurement against Big 12 competition heading into the conference championship, and Big 12 Swimmer of the Week honors for Bishop and Nusbaum from CollegeSwimming.com and the Big 12, respectively, the Jayhawks soared into the Lee and Jo Jamail Texas Swimming Center in Austin, Texas with plenty of momentum.

The first day of the Big 12 Championship only featured two relays, the 200-yard medley and 800-yard freestyle races, but the Jayhawks made a statement that they were ready to improve on their program-best performance from the prior year. KU placed second in both relays, with each relay team recording the second-fastest time in school history in their respective events. After just two races, Kansas had already laid the foundation for another historic showing.

Kansas encountered a roadblock on the second day that would become recurring struggle throughout the Big 12 Championship – performing optimally during the morning preliminaries. KU grabbed only three out of the 24 total spots in the second day’s ‘A’ finals, reducing the team’s chances of securing high point values from their afternoon finals swims. Kansas came out firing in the finals races, making their opportunities for the lesser points in the ‘B’ finals count by claiming the top spot in all of the second day’s finals races.

An improvement in preliminaries performance came on the third day, though not by much. KU qualified for seven of the available 40 ‘A’ final spots, a higher rate than the previous morning but still below what the coaching staff wanted to see. Again, Kansas made the most of their limited opportunities for points in the finals session, securing at least a share of the top spot in all but one of the session’s five ‘B’ finals.

Kansas closed the Big 12 Championship with its best performance of the competition. The Jayhawks grabbed 25 percent of the available ‘A’ finals spots, its best rate of the meet. The improved morning performance allowed KU to add 246 points in the afternoon for a total of 683.5, good for a second-place finish behind Texas and just enough to surpass the 650.5 mark recorded by the 2015-16 squad to set a new program record for most points scored at the Big 12 Championship. It was the team’s third record-setting performance at the conference meet in four years. Contributing to KU’s best-ever Big 12 performance were 35 lifetime swims, including eight swims that rank in the program’s all-time top-five. Ten Jayhawks were recognized for their individual accomplishments at the conference meet, with three student-athletes named to the All-Big 12 First Team and seven to the second team.

Khechfe rounded out the season’s action with her participation in the NCAA Zone Diving Championships in Columbia, Missouri. Coming off of two top-eight finishes at the Big 12 Championship, Khechfe placed 40th and 37th, respectively, in the three and one-meter springboard dives.

Campbell’s 15th season proved to be one of his best at Kansas. In addition to continuing the program’s recent tradition of outdoing itself at the Big 12 Championship each year, Kansas continued excelling in its dryer endeavors outside of the pool. The team posted a combined 3.38 in the fall, the highest fall GPA under Campbell, earning KU’s 29th-straight CSCAA Scholar All-America Team honor. The Big 12 recognized Kansas’ academic success by naming 15 Jayhawks to the Academic All-Big 12 First Team and two to the second team. In the 2016-17 season, Campbell was able to raise the program to new heights while preserving the culture that has allowed Kansas’ swimmers and divers to thrive in all aspects of being a student-athlete.

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