Swimming and Diving Closes Successful Campaign with Team Banquet
LAWRENCE, Kansas – Kansas swimming and diving officially closed the book on its 2015-16 season Sunday afternoon, handing out team awards, recognizing its senior class one last time, and announcing next season’s captains in a banquet at Lawrence Country Club.
After tearful and joyous senior speeches, Kansas head coach Clark Campbell and diving coach Gabe Downey presented this year’s team awards including the Tammy Thomas MVP which was awarded to Chelsie Miller. Nadia Khechfe was the team’s Diver of the Year, Hannah Driscoll was the IronHawk Award winner, Laura Bilsborrow was honored with the Academic Award, Haley Bishop was named the Newcomer of the Year and Haley Molden was selected as the Karen Dionne Most Inspirational award recipient.
Kansas also named its captains for next season with Amanda Maser, Hannah Angell, Lindsay Manning and Sammie Schurig being tasked with leading the team in 2016-17.
As Kansas bids farewell to its four seniors – Laura Bilsborrow, Bryce Hinde, Miller and Molden – the Jayhawks closed out arguably one of the most successful four-year stints in historic fashion. Two years removed from a program-best second-place finish at the 2014 Big 12 Championships, KU found its way back into the top-two at this year’s conference meet, while scoring its most team points in league history.
Having only lost two seniors from a season ago and adding five impact freshmen, the Jayhawks headed into the 2015-16 season with high expectations and certainly lived up to them. The team finished the season with a 9-4 dual record, tallying six of their victories at home. It was the fifth time in Campbell’s 14-year tenure that Kansas registered more than eight dual victories, and the second time in the last two years.
Kansas’ success in the pool was recognized by the conference as Campbell was named Big 12 Coach of the Year and Miller earned Big 12 Swimmer of the Year accolades. In addition to the team’s successful regular season and league meet, Miller received All-America First Team honors with a top-eight finish in the 400-yard individual medley at NCAAs. The Houston, Texas native’s performance was the first time in more than 20 years that a Jayhawk finished in the top-eight at nationals.
“We knew this team was going to be good,” Campbell said. “We had a really good senior class, the sophomores and juniors were strong – a year older and wiser, and then a really good group of freshmen. We knew we were going to be competitive. They met our expectations and that says a lot.”
The first glimpse at how good the squad was going to be was the Crimson and Blue intrasquad meet. It was the rookies’ first opportunity to race, giving themselves, their teammates and the coaches a chance to see their potential. The senior captains, who were split into two groups, drafted their respective teams. The Blue squad, headed by Bilsborrow and Molden, took a 59-35 victory, boosted by a pair of wins from freshman Bishop.
“I just got up there and honestly surprised myself,” Bishop said. “It was my first meet so I was a little nervous, but it was fun because we were just racing against our teammates so that took a little pressure off. It really gave me confidence for the season.”
After three more weeks of training, the Jayhawks opened up their regular season with a double dual against Denver and Missouri State (Oct. 23-24), during which they beat the Bears, 277-69, but fell to a nationally-ranked Pioneers team, 188-162. It was KU’s sole loss in Robinson Natatorium all year. Miller was a major contributor for the Jayhawks as she claimed four event wins during the two-day meet, including lowering her own pool record in the 400-yard individual medley.
Angell recorded a pair of double dual career-bests in the 50- and 100-yard backstrokes. Freshman Libby Walker had a strong start to her Kansas career by chalking up her first individual win of the season in the 1,000-yard freestyle, and a third-place finish in the 200-yard butterfly.
Campbell used the Intrasquad and Denver/Missouri State performances to put together the traveling squad for an unorthodox trip to TCU. The team left Lawrence early the day of its meet in Fort Worth, Texas, giving them little rest or time to settle in for the contest. Despite having the odds against them, the Jayhawks used high energy and determination to trounce the Horned Frogs, 178-119.
Fort Worth product Madison Straight had a sweet homecoming, winning the 200-yard backstroke and the 200-yard individual medley. The sophomore also recorded a top-three finish in the 200 free, contributing points in all three of her individual events.
“Flying to TCU and back on the same day, we weren’t sure how we were going to react,” junior Pia Pavlic said. “The energy we had was absolutely amazing, that was probably one of my favorite meets the whole season. It was great, and Madison Straight killed it, she was on fire, which made us go.”
Kansas used tough competition in its first three meets to prepare for their mid-season invite, the Big Challenge. This year, the Jayhawks hosted a three-day championship-style meet at Topeka’s Capitol Federal Natatorium where the swimmers were allowed to wear their technical suits in hopes to help prepare them for the Big 12 Championship. The meet featured six teams, two Big 12 schools, two Big 10 schools and a pair of Mid-Majors who all competed for both individual and conference crowns. Nebraska won the meet, outscoring Kansas, 969-892.
Despite finishing second, KU recorded multiple career and season-best marks throughout the meet. Junior Yulya Kuchkarova swam a pair of career-best marks in the 100- and 200-yard backstrokes as well as claiming wins and meet records in both events. Miller and Bishop headlined the meet for the Jayhawks as Miller was named the Big Challenge MVP and was joined by Bishop on the All-Star team. The two combined for seven ‘A’ finals appearances.
“It’s really the first time that everyone comes together and there is a little bit of a common goal of swimming fast,” Campbell said. “It’s just that ideal preview of what’s to come at Big 12s when it is the championship season. So we have a little mini championship season and they get to see how the team reacts in a swimming invitational format, which is important.”
After the Big Challenge, the team began an intense winter training regimen. Kansas utilized its Christmas break to prepare for the championship portion of the season. After a week of three-a-days the squad headed to the Sunshine State for a pair of double duals and a chance to train outside of Robinson Natatorium. While in Florida the Jayhawks were swept in their first double dual against FIU (150.5-148.5) and NC State (161-110), but rebounded for a split less than 24 hours later, losing to Miami (178-120) and beating Rutgers (176.5-123.5).
Aside from the pair of meets, KU made its way to Key Largo, Florida for an additional week of training and team bonding. While on the beach, the team changed pace and trained long course instead of its traditional short-course workouts. When they weren’t in the water training, they were busy with other activities such as volunteering at local schools and practicing their reflex skills while feeding Tarpon.
“Other than Big 12s, it’s the second most important time for the team,” Campbell said. “It’s such a good time for the training part, but it’s also such a big time to come together as a team. The trip is so vital in the physical and probably more importantly the mental health of the team.”
Coming back from their training trip, the Jayhawks continued to dominate in their home pool. KU swept its final three home meets, winning 40 consecutive events inside Robison Natatorium. During that streak, Kansas recorded wins over William Jewell, Tabor, Morningside and a televised dual against Nebraska-Omaha.
The Jayhawks wrapped up the regular season with a dual against conference rival, Iowa State. Having lost its last two duals in Ames, Kansas headed into Beyer Pool with vengeance in mind. KU got out to hot start, winning its first four events of the two-day dual. Freshman duo Walker and Bishop claimed three of the victories. Walker won the 200 fly and 1,000 free while Bishop won the 50 free.
The freshmen continued to shine on the second day of competition, with Bishop earning another first-place finish in the 100 fly and Breonna Barker taking the 100 free. With contributions from multiple Jayhawks, Kansas won, 172.5-127.5, to conclude the regular season.
“Iowa State was a huge meet for both me individually and the team,” Bishop said. “I went crazy fast in the 100 fly, crazy fast in the 50 free and it was an eye opener for me. It was right before we taper and at that point I felt like I was ready for Big 12s.”
Kansas entered the Big 12 Championship meet with fresh wounds after a rough start to the 2015 league meet when the first relay of the week was disqualified for a false start on the blocks. The Jayhawks showed no signs of remnants from the year before, jumping off to a quick start while claiming second in both of the relays on the first day of competition.
On the second day Miller notched her fifth school record with a swim of 4:43.07 in the 500 free, shattering the previous record by more than five seconds. The future Big 12 Swimmer of the Year also went on to lower her 200 fly record on the final day. Miller’s five school records are the most held by any Jayhawk.
KU continued its strong outing with three second-place finishes in the individual events on the third day of the meet. After a head-to-head race between Pavlic and Bishop for second-place in the 100 fly, Pavlic edged-out Bishop by one-hundredth of a second, earning a spot in Kansas’ all-time records with the fifth-fastest time in Kansas history (53.80). Miller earned her second top-two finish in the 400 IM, while Kuchkarova took silver in the 100 back.
The Jayhawks secured their historic Big 12 finish during the final event of the meet with a season-best mark in the 400 freestyle relay. After three Jayhawks placed in the top-five of the 200 fly – Miller finishing second, Bishop placing fourth and Walker placing fifth – Kansas just had to finish the final relay to break the previous point total barrier, which they did with a third-place finish. Kansas had a total of 25 top-eight individual finishes along with 20 point-contributing swims in ‘B’ finals.
“This year our team was really confident in our abilities,” Junior Gretchen Pocisk, who registered two lifetime-best marks in the breaststroke events, said. “We were definitely conscious of safe starts, but we went into it with so much energy and excitement. I think that showed other teams that we can have fun, but still compete with the best of them.”
The conference meet marked the end of the season for everyone except Miller and a pair of divers who competed at the NCAA Zone D Championships. Miller earned a bid to NCAAs in four events – 200 IM, 400 IM, 200 Fly and 500 free – but elected to not compete in the 500 free. On the first day Miller swam a season-best mark in the 200 IM, placing 42nd. She went on to have a historic performance at her third consecutive nationals, finishing eighth in the 400 IM. Miller concluded her collegiate career with the 200 fly on the final day of NCAAs, placing 41st overall.