WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue women's swimming and diving begins the championship portion of its season this week, traveling to the Twin Cities 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, March 3 at 10:30 a.m. ET. The University of Minnesota will be offering free live video of the first five sessions of from Wednesday through Friday at Gopher All-Access.
Minnesota is hosting the Women's Big Ten Championships this season for the first time since 2007. Because the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center was selected as the host of the 2014 NCAA Championships, the Big Ten meet will return to the Twin Cities next year as well. 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.
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 Bloomington, Ind.
Many of the Boilermakers on the travel roster this week competed at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center for the 2012 Big Ten Quad.
Three years ago, Purdue capitalized on its opportunity to host the Big Ten Championships, matching the program's best-ever showing with a fourth-place finish. The Boilermakers were fifth in 2011 and sixth last season.
This year Purdue will have its full lineup of divers again. A season ago, only two divers competed at Big Tens because of Olympic redshirt waivers. Casey Matthews is back in the mix for the Big Ten meet for the first time since 2010, when she qualified for the championship final of three competitions. Michelle Cabassol and Mary Beth Dunnichay will make their debuts at the conference meet this week.
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 six schools (Minnesota, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State) ranked among the latest CSCAA Top 25 poll. Purdue has also been ranked at times this season and is currently among the teams also receiving votes.
Minnesota is the defending Big Ten champion, ending Indiana's three-year reign last season.
Sophomore Rhiannon Sheets said that the atmosphere at the Big Ten Championships is unparalleled. She had a strong showing for the Boilers as a freshman last season, earning Second Team All-Big Ten honors after qualifying for the A final of the 100 and 200 butterfly. She went on to swim at the NCAA Championships. However, she said she thought the atmosphere at Big Tens was more intense and raucous because fewer schools are represented by larger groups of fans at Big Tens. And the cheering is more prevalent because most teams typically have at least one entry in the finals heats of lots of events.
Sarah Boylen and Carly Mercer have now competed in conference championship meets for two different leagues. Boylen raced at the Mountain West Championships while she was at Utah in 2010 and 2011. Mercer was a standout for Arkansas at the 2011 Southeastern Conference Championships. Last year, they experienced the Big Ten meet for the first time. Mercer said that the competition was equally formidable and atmosphere comparable, but the Big Ten meet was more streamlined thanks to the men's and women's meets being separate.
The Boilermakers established eight new program records at the 2012 Big Ten Championships in Iowa City. Emily Fogle led the way, taking part in a new Purdue benchmark on all four days. Due to injury, Fogle has not competed since the Purdue Invitational in November, when she eclipsed her own record in the 100 breaststroke. She is expected to return to the active roster next season as a redshirt-junior.
The Boilermakers set new records in the 200 and 400 medley relays at Big Tens a year ago. Purdue started the season with both foursomes back, but with Fogle sidelined Emily McIlrath or Francseca Marr are likely to swim the breastroke leg of those events. Amy Katz (backstroke), Kylie Vogel (200 medley fly), Sheets (400 medley fly) and Lauren Gustafson (freestyle) are part of the Big Ten roster again this year.
Marr broke the Purdue overall and freshman records while winning the C final of the 400 IM a year ago. Winning a finals heat in the evening sessions at Big Tens is an accomplishment, but Marr said her goal this year was to score team points. Qualifiers for the A and B finals of the individual events account for team points.
Meanwhile, Sheets won the 200 fly at the 2012 Big Ten Quad in Minneapolis. Her runner-up showing in the 200 fly was Boilers' top individual finish at Big Tens last year.