Kansas Finishes Second at Big Challenge

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TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas’ Chelsie Miller topped off an already impressive weekend with two more individual wins during Sunday afternoon’s finals session. After garnering five event victories at the three-day championship-style meet inside Capitol Federal Natatorium, Nov. 20-22, Miller was named the Big Challenge’s MVP.
A multiple day competition that mirrored a Big 12 Championship meet consisting of prelims and finals helped the Jayhawks get a preview of what is to come in March. Over the course of the weekend Kansas tallied eight finals victories along with multiple career and season-best marks.
“It really helps them understand why we do what we do,” head coach Clark Campbell talked about the structure of the meet. “They have now felt what conference is going to feel like. It sets up a good understanding of why we do certain things and then what we need to work on in the months ahead to be ready for the conference championships.”Yulduz Kuchkarova
Miller’s dominating performances, along with season-best marks from her teammates, proved not to be enough for the Big 12 to take over the conference standings by the end of the third day. The Big Ten, made up of Nebraska and Illinois, won the meet with 1,732.5 points, while the Big 12 – Kansas and Iowa State – totaled 1,409.5 points. The Mid Major duo of Northern Iowa and Nebraska-Omaha combined for 323 points.
Riding off of yesterday’s 100-yard backstroke performance, Yulduz Kuchkarova claimed another meet record in the stroke, this time in the 200-yard race. With a swim of 1:58.44, Kuchkarova earned her second NCAA B standard of the meet. The first round was just a taste of the Tashkent, Uzbekistan native’s talent as she sped past her previous career-best mark with a finals swim of 1:55.87, lowering her meet record from the morning.
“I’m really happy with Yulya, those career-best times and NCAA B cuts are great,” Campbell said. “It was a really good meet for her and several others.”
Kansas took advantage in the first race of finals for the second day in a row as Miller and freshman Libby Walker paced one another in the 1,650-yard freestyle. The two were neck-and-neck until Miller eventually pulled away with a little less than half of the race remaining. The Kansas All-American lowered her first meet record of the night with a time of 16:31.02, while Walker took second (16:36.15). The pair led the pool by over 10 seconds.
Junior Sammie Schurig continued to thrive in her hometown of Topeka with a lifetime-best in the 200-yard backstroke prelims (2:00.83). The mark not only improved her previous record by almost two seconds, but it also solidified the last spot in the A final. Schurig went on to better her time in the A finals with a swim of 2:00.20.
Nebraska’s Taryn Collura used all cylinders to win the 100-yard freestyle by over a second with a time of 49.00, her third victory of the meet. The Jayhawks claimed third-, fourth- and fifth-place with eight-hundredths of second separating them – Breonna Barker (50.90), Haley Molden (50.93) and Haley Bishop (50.98).
After swimming the mile, Miller came back and had another top performance in the 200-yard butterfly. The Houston, Texas product carved her fifth meet record in the prelims with a time of 2:00.25. She was unable to improve her finals time (2:00.48), but still won the race with ease.
“I’m just really glad that I was able to get in these swims this early in the season,” senior Chelsie Miller said. “It helps me see where I’m at and set goals for where I want to be in March. The times I got were comforting so I’m excited.”
Another career performance came earlier in the morning when Leah Pfitzer registered a record-breaking time in the 100-yard freestyle with a sprint of 52.23.
At the end of the weekend the top two individual high point scorers from each of the squads participating were combined to make up meet’s 12-person all-star team. Chelsie Miller and Haley Bishop represented Kansas, while Kasey Robers (ISU), Marissa Engel (ISU), Taryn Collura (Nebraska), Erin Oeltjen (Nebraska), Gabbie Stecker (Illinois), Lori Lynn (Illinois), Molly Lembezeder (UNI), Veronica Herrmann (UNI), Natalie Renshaw (UNO) and TJ Jensen (UNO) completed the team.
Kansas finished second in the final team standings behind Nebraska, 969 to 892. Illinois (763.5), Iowa State (517.5), Northern Iowa (200) and Nebraska-Omaha (123) completed the standings.
“Meets like this, when we get to spend three days together non-stop, is so much fun,” Miller said. “You really get to see more of everyone’s personalities, we all get a little crazy by the end but it’s super fun just being together. I really do think this is one of the best teams I’ve ever been a part of.”
After a week’s time KU will host a dual against William Jewell inside Robinson Natatorium Friday, December 4. However, a selective group of Jayhawks who swam qualifying times will be absent as they head to Federal Way, Wash. to compete in USA Swimming AT&T Winter Nationals Dec. 3-5.
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