Feb. 18, 2014
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue women's swimming and diving begins the championship portion of its season this week, returning to the Twin Cities for the second year in a row for the four-day, seven-session Big Ten Conference Championships beginning Wednesday evening.
Action begins Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET with the 200 medley and 800 free relays as well as an exhibition round of synchronized 3-meter diving. Preliminary rounds are set for the afternoon sessions and begin at noon ET. Relays are contested, Big Ten champions determined and team points earned in the evening finals, which begin nightly at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The Big Ten Network will televise highlights of the Saturday evening session Sunday, Feb. 23 from 10:30 a.m. to noon ET. Saturday night's session will also be live on BTN2Go. Purdue's David Boudia will be serving as the diving analyst. The BTN's Digital Network will also be offering live video webcasts of the first five sessions from Wednesday evening through Saturday morning via Gopher All-Access.
The Big Ten is always one of the top swimming and diving conferences in the country and the championship meet is hotly contested. This season the 12-team field will feature seven schools (No. 12 Minnesota, No. 13 Indiana, No. 15 Ohio State, No. 17 Michigan, No. 19 Wisconsin, No. 21 Purdue and No. 23 Penn State) ranked among the latest CSCAA Top 25 poll. The Boilermakers competed head-to-head against all of those other ranked teams except Penn State this year, posting dual meet wins against OSU and Michigan.
Minnesota is the two-time defending Big Ten champion. Since finishing a program-best fourth in 2010 when it last hosted Big Tens, Purdue has finished fifth, sixth and fifth the last three years.
Minnesota is hosting the Women's Big Ten Championships this season for the second year in a row because the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center was also selected to serve as the host of the 2014 NCAA Championships. The women's conference championship meet has not been held at the same site in consecutive years since Indianapolis was the host in 1994-95.
Ohio State is next on the schedule to host the Women's Big Ten Championships a year from now. The Boilermaker Aquatic Center will host the Men's Big Ten Championships in 2016 and the Women's meet a year later.
The Big Ten is one of the few conferences that continue to hold their men's and women's championship meets separate from each other. The men's meet is next week in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The Purdue women's last individual conference champions were divers Ashley Karnes (1-meter) and Emily Wetzel (platform) in 2009. Carlene Takaki's 200 butterfly championship in 2006 was the program's last swimming title.
Carly Mercer and Casey Matthews should have the best chances to emerge as Big Ten champions this year. Wisconsin's Ivy Martin, the defending conference champion in the 50 freestyle, is the only Big Ten swimmer to defeat Mercer in the 100 free this season. Martin, Minnesota's Becca Weiland and Mercer also finished 1-2-3 in the 50 free at the Big Ten Triple Duals Jan. 31 at the Boilermaker Aquatic Center.
Matthews is the defending NCAA champion from the 3-meter springboard, but finished second to Minnesota's Maggie Keefer in the same event at Big Tens a year ago. Matthews and Keefer are both closing out their college careers this season.
Diver MacKenzie Tweardy was Purdue's top individual scorer at the 2013 Big Ten Championships, accounting for 36 team points after scoring in all three diving events. She was the runner-up in platform and 1-meter diving. Platform diving remains the junior's top event.
Matthews and Tweardy earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors at the conference championship meet last season. Rhiannon Sheets earned Second Team acclaim at the 2012 Big Tens as a freshman. Matthews (30), Sheets (29) and Michelle Cabassol (28) were all close behind Tweardy as the Boilers' top individual point scorers a year ago.
Among the current roster, Allie Davis (18), Mercer (12.5), Nika Karlina Petric (9), Francesca Marr (7) and Alex Todd (4) also scored points at the 2013 Big Tens. Cabassol, Davis, Matthews, Mercer, Petric and Tweardy went on to represent Purdue at the NCAA Championships.
Mercer broke the program record in the 100 freestyle earlier this season at the Ohio State Invitational in November. Lauren Gustafson's 50 free record was the only new mark established at the 2013 Big Ten Championships. But two years ago, eight new Purdue records were set. Perhaps most impressive among them was Marr breaking a 400 IM record that had stood since 2005 while winning C final of the event.
While selected Purdue swimmers and relay teams will essentially clinch berths at the NCAA Championships this week, the divers will have to earn their spots at the national championship meet next month by qualifying at the NCAA Zone Championships. The Boilermakers will compete in the Zone C meet the weekend of March 13-14 in Columbus, Ohio.