The Ohio State men’s swimming team is set to host the 2017 Big Ten Championships at the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion, beginning Wednesday morning.
Last year, in West Lafayette, Indiana, the Buckeyes placed third overall with 1,294.5 points behind reigning Big Ten champions Michigan with 1,475.5 points and Indiana who finished second, scoring 1,306 points.
OSU is expecting both Michigan and Indiana as the teams to beat heading into the week, said senior Andrew Appleby.
“Michigan is a powerhouse team and Indiana is having a great season so far, so those are the two we’re looking at the most,” he said. “But you have got to be cognizant of all sorts of individuals because the Big Ten is such a deep conference and you never really know who is going to show up on that day. It’s all about finishing in the top 24 to get points for the team.”
The depth of the Big Ten will play a huge factor in racing this week, with reigning individual Big Ten champions returning, including Indiana’s Blake Peroni, who took home two Big Ten titles in the 200-yard and 100-yard freestyle.
Other standouts include Michigan’s Patrick Ransford who won the mile along with Wolverines’ Paul Powers, who won the 50-yard freestyle title, contributing to the 10 individual conference titles their team won last year.
Minnesota’s Connor McHugh and Bowe Becker also pose a threat to the Buckeyes. McHugh took bronze in the 200 breaststroke and Becker placed seventh in the 100 freestyle, both raking in points for the Gophers.
Despite the massive talent among other Big Ten schools, the Buckeyes are making sure the focus of their team is on each other, not just the competition, Appleby said.
“We’ve been more focused on internal things like what we can do, what our swimmers need to do in order to get to that higher place, top Michigan, top Indiana and win the Big Ten this year,” he said.
Last season, senior Matt McHugh took home the Buckeyes’ only two individual Big Ten titles, winning the 100 butterfly for the third consecutive time, and the 100 backstroke for the second time.
McHugh said he will try to keep up the consecutive victories, along with being one of the only Buckeyes in history to sweep an event all four years of his collegiate career.
“I just want to do it again, do the same thing as last year pretty much and improve,” he said.
“It’ll be nice to swim in the same pool we always swim in, we have our own locker rooms, fans cheering and not having to travel is nice.”
Having a championship meet in their own backyard will be a positive for Buckeyes, but most importantly, the crowd will help the team immensely, coach Bill Wadley said.
“I think the fun is that we get a hometown crowd,” he said. “We want to get as many students here as possible wearing the scarlet and gray, cheering on the Bucks. And we think if we can create a little bit of energy from that, it will really add value to the experience.”
At the end of the day, the focus for the Buckeyes heading into the championships is what it has been all season: performing at a higher level of excellence, Wadley said.
“You embrace your rivals and embrace your competition,” he said. “Our goal is to get as many good swims that we can, so that we can build on them and use them to motivate us to be even better.”
The Big Ten Championships start Wednesday evening and run through Saturday evening with preliminaries beginning at 11 a.m. and finals starting each night at 6:30 p.m.