Indiana Daily Student

Looze eyes Michigan as greatest threat to IU men's swim and dive Big Ten 3-peat

<p>Freshman Jakub Karl swims the 200 fly Nov. 17 at Counsilman Billingsley Aquatic Center.&nbsp;</p>

Freshman Jakub Karl swims the 200 fly Nov. 17 at Counsilman Billingsley Aquatic Center. 

His eyes widen. His head shakes left to right. A puff of air exits his mouth. 

Thirty consecutive dual-meet victories and back-to-back conference championships are not enough to keep IU swimming Coach Ray Looze comfortable. 

“At some point that’s going to end, and I just don’t want it to be this year,” Looze said. “We’re going to be facing a really good Michigan team and we need to be on DEFCON 1.” 

Last year’s No. 3 IU team barely beat out Michigan 1658-1617.5 to claim the program’s 26th Big Ten title. This time – with departed stars like Blake Pieroni, Ali Khalafalla and Michael Hixon out of the equation – IU’s quest for title 27 will be more difficult. 

While Looze expects the Wolverines to put everything on the line this year in pursuit of stopping his team, he said past results against them couldn't mean less.

"Whatever happened the last couple years or this season doesn’t matter," Looze said. "It’s going to be a battle, and I don’t see this year as any different.” 

This season’s No. 3 Hoosiers defeated the No. 4 Wolverines in a 173.5-126.5 dual-meet victory Jan. 17 at home. IU took both diving events, relays, backstrokes and all but two of the freestyle events. 

At the conference championships last season, it was Khalafalla and Pieroni who spearheaded the relay victories along with strong performances in the freestyle and backstroke events. 

With these two Olympic competitors off the roster, it will be up to upperclassmen like seniors Vini Lanza, last year’s Swimmer of the Championships, and Ian Finnerty to step up on the swimming front for the Hoosiers.

Looze said these two leaders have been and will continue to be essential role models for the rest of the team as the biggest meets of the season approach.

“They are each their own guy but are super team-oriented and some of our best swimmers,” he said. “Ian is a lead by example guy, and Vini is an emotional guy who watched what Blake and Ali did and wants to continue in it.”

Alumnus Michael Hixon led the way on the diving front with a victory in the 1-meter and was runner-up on both the platform dive and the 3-meter for the Big Ten competition last season. 

In his place, redshirt senior James Connor will look to step into the spotlight and claim first for the Hoosiers. 

“James is one of the most successful divers this school has ever seen,” IU diving Coach Drew Johansen said. “James has always been a place or two next to Hixon throughout his whole career, so this is a great chance for him to finish out a great senior year.” 

Another top diver entering this year’s conference play is sophomore Andrew Capobianco. Capobianco is the only athlete to have defeated Connor this year. Whether it be Capobianco or Connor, IU has not lost a diving event all season. 

For the 7-1 Wolverines, Ricardo Vargas will be a formidable opponent on the distance swimming events. The sophomore phenom holds the fastest times in the nation for the 500 and 1,000 freestyle with times of 4:11.45 and 8:46.64, respectively. He is second in the nation on the 1,650 freestyle.

Michigan freestyle swimmer Luiz Gustavo Borges and butterfly specialist Miles Smachlo have both had strong 2018-19 seasons as well. Borges fared well this year in the 50 and 100 freestyles, picking up wins against Ohio State and IU. Smachlo dominated IU’s butterfly swimmers taking the 100 and 200 fly among other strong outings throughout his year. 

The Big Ten Men's Swimming and Diving Championships begin at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27 in Iowa City, Iowa. The meet will run through March 2. 

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