Jayhawks Have Sights Set High Leading into Big 12 Championships
2016 Big 12 Championship Central
LAWRENCE, Kan. – A tough break on the first day of competition nearly a year ago prevented Kansas from securing potential back-to-back second-place finishes at the Big 12 Championships. After another successful regular season, the Jayhawks make their way back to Austin, Texas with hopes of redemption at the league meet, which begins Wednesday at Texas’ Jamail Swimming Center.
For the fifth time in head coach Clark Campbell’s tenure the Jayhawks have tallied more than eight dual victories with an overall record of 9-4 on the year and the squad will look to cap one of the program’s most successful four-year stints with its sights set on returning to the top-two. They accomplished the feat for the first time under Campbell in 2014, but a relay disqualification to open last year’s championship left the team in a hole too big to climb out of.
“Last year it hurt bad that we finished third,” Campbell said. “Iowa State had a fantastic meet and we left some points on the table. It was tough, but I think we have used that as motivation this entire year. We’ve moved on and are inching forward.
We want to be among the top-two teams in the Big 12 while also closing the point gap with Texas.”
The Jayhawks have accumulated dual meet wins over both TCU and Iowa State to remain spotless in league competition during the 2015-16 season, but will swim against league foes Texas and West Virginia for the first time this week.
In addition to improving its team standings, KU will also look to find its way atop the podium individually. Senior Chelsie Miller returns to the meet for her final outing as Kansas’ only swimmer to become a conference champion. She etched her name in the record books in 2014 when she won the 400-yard individual medley and has goals to earn more gold as she closes out her collegiate career.
Miller won’t be the only one looking to earn some hardware at the meet. This year’s squad has proven to be successful in the pool all year, winning their last four duals including 40 consecutive event wins over a stretch of three home meets. They hope to continue their recent the success heading into this week.
“I really would like to get some first-place finishes,” Miller said. “And I know my teammates want the same thing. We have a really good team this year and I have a good feeling about what we can do down there.”
Texas returns five individual Big 12 Champions as they try to extend their league chokehold with a fourth straight conference title. Texas has claimed 13 of the last 19 Big 12 Championships, dating back to 1996. Last year, the Longhorns claimed the top spot with a 400-point advantage over the Cyclones, totaling 1082.5 points. Kansas took third with 589 points.
The meet will begin Wednesday night at 6 p.m. with the 200-yard medley and 800-yard freestyle relays. Following Wednesday’s competition the meet will include prelims sessions at 10 a.m. each morning and finals at 6 p.m. in the evening. The top-eight times from each prelims race will advance to the ‘A’ finals with the next eight swimmers competing in the ‘B’ finals. Both finals will contribute to the overall team scores.
Kansas will rely on both its veterans and rookies in order to accomplish its goals of closing the point gap and increasing the number of swimmers that qualify for the ‘A’ and ‘B’ finals. Both Miller and junior Yulya Kuchkarova hold top-four conference times in their marquee events heading into the contest, while freshman duo Haley Bishop and Libby Walker currently hold top-five times in their respective races.
“We have trained so well this year,” Bishop said. “I think we are truly at our best point of the season. The thing we are trying to do is to show our hard work at Big 12s and just show each of our teammates that everything paid off. I can’t wait to go down there and prove what we’ve been working so hard for.”
The Jayhawks will also contribute to the team points in the diving well. The competition will look similar to swimming with prelims and finals for each dive. In addition to their regular one- and three-meter dives, Kansas will also participate in the five-meter platform for the first time this year. Nadia Khechfe, Graylyn Jones and Amanda Maser will represent KU on the boards.
“From day one we are focused on Big 12s,” diving coach Gabe Downey said. “So they are kind of already in that mind frame. We are excited to get down there and have some fun competing.”
Kansas has used a two-week hiatus from competition to make final adjustments and taper its training with the goal of posting its fastest times yet, against its fastest field of opponents. In addition to winning races this week, the Jayhawks hope to qualify multiple student-athletes for the NCAA Championships, with Bishop, Kuchkarova, Miller and already holding NCAA ‘B’ qualifying times.
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