Feb. 13, 2006
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The Big Ten Championships have been a yearlong focus for the 17th-ranked Boilermakers (8-2, 6-2 Big Ten). But what's the plan, now that it's here?
According to Purdue head coach Cathy Wright-Eger, the answer is to keep doing exactly what they've done all season.
"Our team works best when it sets A and B goals," said the 19th-year mentor. "In November, our goal was to beat Ohio State and get close to Michigan, and we beat both teams. Later, our goal was to finish a close second to Florida at our invitational, and we beat them and Tennessee. If each individual takes care of themselves, we'll get the results we're looking for."
Over the last eight years, Purdue has progresses steadily in the Big Ten standings, going from 11th in 1998 to fifth in 2005. The Boilermakers only suffered one minor setback during that span, when they dropped back to sixth from fifth in 2004.
Purdue's goals for this postseason is to finish among the top half at Big Tens and among the top 25 at NCAAs. These targets are rather conservative, considering the Boilermakers have beaten several nationally ranked teams and were ranked as high as 14th last month.
"We want to finish in the top five, but we'll finish fourth or higher if we can remain opportunistic," said Wright-Eger. "This is going to be a fun meet because I think the top six teams are much closer than in years past. Wisconsin is favored to win, with Penn State second - then you have Michigan, Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana in a fight for the third through sixth places."
Wright-Eger believes a fourth-place finish is within reach after factoring in diving totals. Purdue is one of a few schools that can score three or more divers per event, which gives them an advantage over Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan. Senior Carrie McCambridge and junior Amanda Miller are projected to reach the finals off all three boards (1-meter, 3-meter and platform), while it's possible that any combination of McCambridge, Miller, Lauren Hallyburton, Amber Kerns and Emily Wetzel can score off the tower.
All five aforementioned competitors have qualified for NCAA Diving Zones, the most in program history.
Purdue's depth also extends to the pool with team co-captain Erica Chandler leading the way. Chandler, along with McCambridge, have been ideal captains in and out of the water.
"I credit them with the team's success," said Wright-Eger. "They are the ones who continue to score the points. They lead vocally and by their actions."
The co-captains' supporting cast includes ten individuals who scored at last years Big Ten Championships, including Carlene Takaki, Susan Hentschel, Jenae Gill and Jennifer Lavers. Takaki is projected to place among the top five in the 100 fly, and contend for the 200 fly title with Ohio State's Gulash Gunenc and Wisconsin's Jenny Gelden.
Takaki also will play an integral role on the 200 and 400 medley relays along with Gill, Lavers and either Hentschel or Chandler.
Hentschel, who missed the first few weeks of the season with an injury, can score anywhere from the 50 to 200 free and also will see time on all three freestyle relays (200, 400 and 800 yards).
Gill is Purdue's top option in both backstroke races. And while she should finish among the top eight in the 100 back, she'll have to battle for a spot in the championship finals of the 200 back.
The 100 and 200 breaststroke pits Lavers against Wisconsin's tandem of Yi-Ting Siow and Amal Sarnecki. Siow's 200 breast time of 2:11.59 is the second fastest in the nation this season according to Taper & Shave. Lavers will receive assistance from Shannon Grace in the 100 and Rory Belk in the 200.
Chandler has been Purdue's most versatile swimmer, but Wright-Eger can enter the senior in only three individual events. Most likely, those events will be the 200 and 500 free and the 400 individual medley, since Chandler broke the school records in all three of them. Jennifer Merte scored among the top eight in both IM's last season and is expected to duplicate that effort again in 2006.
Purdue's graduations of Tracy Duchac, Christine Leupold and Katie Seleskie hurts its depth in the sprint freestyle, so Wright-Eger is counting on Kimbre Vogel and Lauren Willis to win back some of those points in the 50 and 100 and Katharine Telfer to improve on her 14th-place showing from a year ago in the 200 free. Telfer also can be counted to place among the top 16 in the 200 back.
The losses of the three seniors also may affect the freestyle relays. Purdue comes in with the fifth-fastest 200 free relay at 1:33.92, but its 400 and 800 free relay marks of 3:23.69 and 7:22.13 are both ranked third in the conference.
The 2006 Big Ten Championships, which are being hosted by Ohio State, begin Wednesday at 7 p.m. with the 200 medley relay and the 800 free relay. The meet's first individual event, the 500 freestyle, starts Thursday at 11 a.m.