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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Junior Ally McHugh (Philadelphia, Pa.) won the 2018 Women’s Big Ten Championship in the 1,650 freestyle in record-breaking fashion to highlight Penn State’s final day of competition in the meet Saturday in Ohio State’s McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion.
McHugh earned her second medal of the meet in a blistering 15:43.34, not only shattering her own Penn State record of 15:59.03 set in the same pool last November, but breaking the Big Ten Championships meet record of 15:44.93 set last year by Michigan’s G Ryan. Accordingly, McHugh was named to the All-Big Ten First Team.
“I’m not sure how to describe her performance other than a monster swim,” said Penn State head coach Tim Murphy. “It was a little different race for Ally. Normally she’s behind a little bit and makes up ground later on, and she was just kind of feeling it and got out in front early, and just kept getting faster. Her last 500 yards was 4:41.9, which is remarkable. Maybe in the back of her mind she thought, ‘I’ve been on the podium, but I want to be on top of the podium.’
“She just kept getting faster. And we know Ally doesn’t get slower as the race goes on, so when she was out in front , it was like, ‘where is she going with this one!’”
McHugh also guaranteed her trip to the NCAA Championships, as the time bested the NCAA A-cut standard by more than 10 seconds. McHugh’s time (15:43.34) stands out nationally. Entering the weekend, it ranks second only to Stanford’s Katie Ledecky (15:03.3) in the NCAA and fourth overall nationally.
Her 1,000-yard split of 9:36.29 is also a Penn State record.
It was McHugh’s second medal of the meet and third top-four finish. On Friday, McHugh claimed silver in the 400 individual medley, nearing her own school record in 4:06.43. Wednesday, she broke her own school record in the 500 freestyle with a time of 4:38.44, shaving 0.33 seconds off her previous record set in the same pool in November.
McHugh is the second Nittany Lion to win the event and the first since Regan Stacey in 1994 (16:26.02). She is also Penn State’s first individual champion since 2014 when Mackenzie Powers won the 100 butterfly and Alyson Ackman won the 200 freestyle.
McHugh was not the only standout Nittany Lion in the mile. Freshman Camryn Barry (Westlake Village, Calif.) placed 15th in a personal-best 16:33.56, dropping eight seconds off her previous best, while classmate Stephanie Szekely (Doylestown, Pa.) dropped a whopping 15 seconds off her previous best to place 20th in 16:38.65. Sophomore Hannah Blaser (Doylestown, Pa.) set the tone for the event by dropping 17 seconds off her previous best to place 28th (16:57.34).
“Steph Szekely, a freshman, had a big time swim and handled herself real well in her first Big Ten Championships,” said Murphy. “We needed to score points in the mile so that was an important swim. Then Cam dove in the water and she dropped eight seconds and ended up 15th. So again we had big swims from freshman swimmers putting points on the board for us and the points that we needed, so we were real fired up about that.”
Additionally, McHugh was not the only Nittany Lion editing the team record books Saturday evening. Senior Niki Price (Manchester, Pa.) placed 13th in the 100 freestyle in a personal-best and NCAA B-cut 49.49 seconds, becoming the sixth-fastest Penn State performer all-time in the event. Sophomore Maddie Hart (Bryn Mawr, Pa.) placed 12th in the 200 butterfly in a personal-best and NCAA B-cut of 1:57.82, which ranks her as the ninth-fastest performer all-time at Penn State.
Hart was Penn State’s breakout performer of the week. She reached her first career A-final in the 100 butterfly and also reached in the B-final of the 100 backstroke. She posted her best times in those events in the prelims, swimming a 52.71 in the fly to become just the second sub 53-second performer all-time at Penn State, and a 53.35 in the 100 back prelims. Hart ultimately placed eighth in the 100 fly (52.71) and 13th in the 100 back (53.45). All of the times were B-cuts.
The Nittany Lions capped the evening with a season-best performance in the 400 freestyle relay, as seniors Price, Katrina Kuhn (Piscataway, N.J.) and Tommie Dillione (Newtown, Pa.), and McHugh placed seventh in 3:18.66.
As a team, Penn State finished eighth with 418 points. No. 5 Michigan claimed the team title, while No. 9 Indiana was second, No. 13 Ohio State was third, No. 16 Minnesota was fourth, No. 23 Wisconsin was fifth, Purdue was sixth and Northwestern seventh.
“We had a lot of good things come out of this meet,” said Murphy. “After the meet talking to the team, I said ‘thank you’ to the seniors, then the team now needs to kind of assess itself, we’re going to be electing new leaders soon, and told them that the game doesn’t get any easier, so they have to figure out how to get better. That’s individually as athletes and students, and collectively as a swimming and diving team representing Penn State.”
Penn State senior captain Hannah Harper (Charlottesville, Va.) was recognized as the team’s recipient of the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.
“Hannah has a dedicated, team-first mentality, and brings an eloquence in knowing how to tell people things that need to be said and knowing how to do it in a fair way,” said Murphy. “She’s a fine representative for Penn State on the Big Ten stage, and we were more than delighted to honor her in that way. I think it meant a great deal to her.”
Penn State had several strong performances throughout the four-day meet.
On Friday, Dillione reached the consolation finals in the 200 freestyle for a second consecutive year, swimming a season best and B-cut time of 1:46.87 in the preliminaries and finishing 16th in overall in 1:47.56 in the finals.
Joining McHugh in the 400 IM was Szekely, who posted a personal best and an NCAA B-cut time of 4:17.58 to place 17th.
“They did a good job getting in the top eight,” said Murphy. “Katrina went 22.9, which is what we need her to do leading off relays, then Tommie and Cam, who are known more for their 200, 500, and in Cam’s case, her mile, dove in and did 23.2 for us, and then Ann Tolan the freshman anchored it in 22.9. So we’re proud of all four of them and getting in the top eight was a real nice reward for them.”
The divers concluded competition, led by freshman Kamryn Umbel (Potomac, Md.) in the 3-meter dive with a score of 248.60. Sophomore Christina Crowell (Bedford Hills, Md.) led in the 1-meter Thursday (231.30).
“We saw some nerves on the first day of competition from our younger divers,” said Penn State diving coach Dennis Ceppa. “They illustrated considerably more confidence in their second-day events and the results improved accordingly. As a senior, McKayla Mawn illustrated how she never stopped working to improve her skills by performing the best reverse 2.5's she's done in competition throughout her career.”
Joining McHugh Thursday with evening swims were seniors Price and Kuhn, who also surpassed the NCAA B-cut standard and posted personal bests. Price’s best swim came in the preliminaries, as she ascended to fourth on Penn State’s all-time performers list in the 200 IM with a time of 1:58.18 to rank 11th, but slipped in the finals to 16th in 1:59.60.
Kuhn finished 20th overall in the 50 freestyle in 22.90 seconds, shaving six-hundredths off her prelim time.t
Penn State concluded Thursday with an 11th-place finish in the 400 medley relay with a season-best time of 3:39.43. Hart led the relay off with a 100 backstroke split of 52.72 seconds, which is an NCAA B-cut time and ranks her as the fourth-best performer all-time at Penn State in the 100 back.
On the opening night Wednesday, the Nittany Lions set season bests in the 200 medley and 800 freestyle relays, led by a NCAA B-cut performance and sixth-place finish in the 800, which freshman Barry, seniors Dillione and Price, and junior McHugh combined to finish in 7:07.32.
Penn State opened the evening with a seventh-place finish in the 200 medley relay in a season-best 1:38.80. Hart led off the effort, and was followed by freshman Maddie Cooke (Phoenixville, Pa.) and seniors Price and Kuhn.
The Men’s Big Ten Championships are next. Minnesota is hosting the meet Wednesday to Saturday. Meanwhile, the women will assess their positions in the NCAA standings and consider the Last Chance Meet next Sunday.