Swimming and Diving Reaches New Heights in 2013-14

LAWRENCE, Kan. – The 2013-14 Kansas swimming and diving team under head coach Clark Campbell finished second at the Big 12 Conference Championships, marking the highest finish in program history and one of many in a season of accomplishments.  At the same meet, the Jayhawks garnered their first Big 12 Champion in Kansas history in that of Chelsie Miller in the 200-yard individual medley. At the NCAA Championships, Miller became the first All-American in four years, representing the Jayhawks in the 400-yard individual medley.  The Jayhawks finished 6-4 in dual meet action and broke seven school records.

Talent shined early at the annual intrasquad scrimmage in October.  Morgan Sharp and Bryce Hinde led the Blue team while Yulduz “Yulya” Kuchkarova, Lindsay Manning, and diver Alyssa Golden led the Crimson.  Sharp finished first in the 150- and 300-yard freestyle races, while Hinde took the win in the 50- and 150-yard breaststrokes.  For the Crimson squad, freshman Kuchkarova won the 150-yard freestyle and backstroke, and classmate Manning took first in the 600-yard freestyle.  Golden also scored points for the Crimson team winning the 3-meter dive.

“Overall, I was pleased with how we performed,” Campbell said about the practice. “At the same time, I also saw how much swim work we had yet to do. Every week we wanted to keep getting better.”

In Colorado Springs, Golden continued to excel against Air Force (Oct. 12), taking home top honors in both diving events.  Despite her efforts, the Jayhawks fell short, 154-146.  Kuchkarova, Hinde, Pia Pavlic and Leah Pfitzer pulled out a first-place finish in the 200-yard medley relay.  Hinde also had strong individual performances, placing first in the 100-yard breaststroke and third in the 200.

In their first meet against a conference foe, TCU, (Oct. 17) the Jayhawks came up short, 176-124.  Despite the score, several Jayhawks shined.  Sharp took first and second in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle, respectively, Hinde placed first in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:04.64) and Kuchkarova won the 200-yard backstroke (2:03.93).

“We were still a long ways away from the championships, but it was good to see what they might have been like,” Campbell said. “We were able to get a glimpse of what they might have been like in February even though we expected them to be better.”

Following two tough losses, the team hosted its first home meet of the season on Nov. 2.  The Jayhawks won 13 of the 16 events, defeating Nebraska-Omaha (235-65) and North Dakota (229-70.5) in a double dual on Senior Day.

The team hit the road again for a dual against Illinois on Nov. 9, where they fell short against the Fighting Illini, 186-114.  Although Hinde and Miller had first-place finishes in the 100-yard breaststroke and 200-yard butterfly, respectively, Campbell hoped that the team could have shown more of what they were capable of achieving.

The second annual Kansas Classic (Nov. 22-24) gave the team a boost of confidence, as the Jayhawks took first overall in a six-team field, scoring 932.5 points.  Kansas was followed by Nebraska (795.5) and Iowa State (760.5).  At the Kansas Classic, held in Topeka at the Capitol Federal Natatorium, swimmers competed in preliminary rounds and had a chance to qualify for finals in the afternoon.

“The great thing about championship-style meets is that we always have another chance to get better,” Campbell said.

Finishing up the 2013 calendar year, the swimming and diving team split up in December as Miller, Hinde, Allison Lusk and Kuchkarova traveled to the USA Winter Nationals in Knoxville, Tennessee.  There, the first of seven records of the season was broken by Lusk in the 200-yard breaststroke with a time of 2:14.46, improving upon her old record of 2:14.57 and placing 19th.  Miller also had a record-breaking performance in the 200-yard butterfly with a time of 1:58.58, which placed 18th and qualified her to compete at the NCAA Championships.  Miller also posted a time of 4:08.86 in the 400-yard individual medley, the fastest in the Big 12 at that point in the season. Her efforts were recognized by the league as she was named Big 12 Conference Swimmer of the Week on Dec. 11.  The rest of the team was victorious as they hosted William Jewell in Robinson Natatorium, Dec. 7. 

After the fall semester, Kansas kicked off the new year with its annual training trip. The swimming and diving team stopped in Winter Park, Florida, for a double dual against Rollins College and Florida-Tampa (Jan. 11) where they swept both teams, 202-55 and 195.5-61.5, respectively, before heading to train in Puerto Rico.

“We went to Puerto Rico and rolled up our sleeves and really got to work,” Campbell said about the victory. “We had a good picture of where we were at after the meet. We had a good opportunity going into winter training to address key points that would make each individual better. It was a time to simply focus on becoming better athletes.”

“During winter training we planned to pick up the intensity and focus level so the nerves wouldn’t take over during later meets,” diving coach Brian Pritt said of his plans for the divers.

In the final home meet of the 2013-14 season, KU hosted Arkansas-Little Rock (Jan. 25) and improved its record to 6-3 in dual meets with a score of 148-96. The team placed first in every event.  Miller broke both the school and pool records in the 1000-yard freestyle with a time of 9:51.70. 

Kansas left for a double dual in Fayetteville against Arkansas and Vanderbilt (2/1), where the competition was tough, but great practice.  With the team under pressure, Sharp swam to second place in the 200-yard freestyle and recorded a new in-season best time of 51.67.  Hinde and Pavlic also took second place in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:23.51) and 100-yard butterfly (56.98), respectively.

“We need teams to push us so that we can get ready for the tough competition we will have at the Big 12 Championships,” Campbell said after beating Vanderbilt 163-130 but falling to Arkansas, 207-91.
KU rounded out the regular season by traveling to long-time Big 12 rival Iowa State in Ames for a two-day dual meet (Feb. 7-8).  Sharp led the team after the first day, finishing first in the 200-yard freestyle, but the team fell to the Cyclones, 161.5-138.5. With the loss, the team ended the season 7-5 in dual meets.  Campbell took this particular defeat as a learning experience going into the Big 12 Championships in Austin, Texas.

“We need to learn how to deal with bouncing back from night racing to morning racing,” he said. “We need to be sharper when we get to Austin.  The conference championships have a different vibe because we have more time to adjust to the facility. Meets like this are more difficult because everything happens so quickly.”

The first of four records broken at the Big 12 Championships was Friday night, March 30, by the 800-yard freestyle relay of Sharp, Haley Molden, Miller and Allison Merecka.  Their time of 7:11.99 broke a five-year-old school record and placed second overall.  The 200-yard medley relay of Kuchkarova, Hinde, Pavlic and Pfitzer also placed in the top three with a third-place finish. 

The record-breaking streak continued on the second day of the league meet as the Miller swam a time of 1:58.98 in the 200-yard individual medley, breaking a seven-year-old school record, swimming into third place in the finals and qualifying her for NCAAs.  Lusk also placed 11th in the event.  In the diving pool, sophomore Meredith Brownell placed seventh in the one-meter with a personal best score of 241.40. 

On the third night of the championships, Miller swam to victory in the 400-yard individual medley to win the first individual Big 12 Championship for KU.  The sophomore shattered her personal-best by seven seconds, posting a time of 4:07.97, setting a new school record, and boosting the Jayhawks into second place in the overall standings.

“It was a big night for Chelsie and for KU swimming,” Campbell said. “Her (Miller’s) time was faster than what she swam at U.S. Nationals, which will just improve her seed for the NCAA Championships.”
In the 100-yard backstroke, Kuchkarova finished second (54.21), followed by Hannah Angell (55.53) and Sofiia Filatova (55.54) in fifth and sixth, respectively.

With the momentum from the first three days, the seniors led the team into the final events.  Lusk re-broke her 200-yard breaststroke school record, placing fourth with a time of 2:13.70. Sharp finished 10th in the 100-freestyle posting a time of 50.60.  Kuchkarova came in third in the 200-yard backstroke with a time of 1:57.14.  The Jayhawks placed second overall, behind Texas (1,109.5 points), for the highest finish in school history.  The program was also awarded meet honors when Campbell was voted Coach of the Meet and Miller was presented Swimmer of the Meet.

Miller was the only swimmer to represent Kansas at the NCAA National Championships (March 20-22) in the 200- and 400-yard IM, as well as the 1,650-yard freestyle.  On day one, she swam to a 44th-place finish in the 200-yard individual medley. 

After her race, Campbell said, “She swam well and her race was clean. We worked with her to get her more used to the pool to get her ready for her events the following days.” 
The following day Miller swam her marquee event, the 400-yard IM.  She swam a time of 4:09.64, earning 13th to qualify for finals that night.  In the evening, she swam 4:10.55, placing 15th for which she achieved All-America honors. 

“She did what she needed to do in the morning to get a lane that night.  It may not have been the time she was shooting for but she earned All-American status, which is tremendous for her,” Campbell said.

On the final day of the NCAA Championships, Miller went on to swim the 1,650-yard freestyle in a time of 16:09.00, placing 17th and breaking yet another school record.  In all, Miller broke five school records during the 2013-14 season: 1,650-yard freestyle, 1,000-yard freestyle, 200-yard butterfly, 200-yard individual medley and 400-yard individual medley.

After leading Kansas to the highest Big 12 finish in school history, Campbell was named the Big 12 Conference Swim Coach of the Year.  He agreed that the record may not reflect what this team was capable of.

“It doesn’t seem like our dual meet record reflects a second-place team at the conference championships, but with swimming and diving you have to pick your battles and that was one that we wanted to fight for,” Campbell said. “We didn’t win a conference dual meet all year, but the whole goal was to perform at a high level at the league championships. We had swimmers achieving personal records in every event. Our seniors spearheaded the cultural change and it’s a tribute to them and what they have worked on in the past year.”  

Despite losing seven seniors, the swimming and diving team will return ten top finishers from the 2014 Big 12 Championships and looks to nine freshmen to help build on a strong foundation for the 2014-15 season.