NCAA qualifier Autumn Haebig and two-time All-American Abigail Knapton lead the Nebraska swimming and diving team into the 2018-19 season.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Huskers Ready to Rise in 2018-19

By NU Athletic Communications

Nebraska has positioned itself to take another step forward in 2018-19 with its most talented team in recent memory and its largest women’s swimming and diving roster in school history.

Olympic and NCAA swimming legend Pablo Morales enters his 18th season as Nebraska’s head coach with a solid nucleus of six senior leaders, including Kaylyn Flatt, Lindsay Helferich, Jacqueline Jeschke, Morgan McCafferty, Anna McDonald and Dana Posthuma

Junior Abigail Knapton, a two-time first-team All-American, adds her talent and leadership to an impressive group of divers who could make a major impact at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships. 

Sophomore Autumn Haebig, who competed at the NCAA Championships and set three school records as a true freshman, could help the Husker senior swimmers set the tone for an outstanding season in the water.

Nebraska’s six seniors have combined for 17 top-24 finishes in their careers at the Big Ten Championships, and their experience will be key in helping guide a collection of young and talented Huskers in 2018-19.

Helferich produced Nebraska’s top times of 2017-18 in the 50 and 100 freestyle events, while swimming the anchor leg on Nebraska’s school-record setting 400-yard medley relay team. She was also the anchor of the 200 medley relay squad that swam the second-fastest time in Husker history.

While Helferich led the sprinters, Flatt powered the distance freestyle group with Nebraska’s fastest times in the 1,000 and 1,650 free during the year.

Posthuma added Nebraska’s top times in the 100 and 200 butterfly events, while McDonald notched the Big Red’s best time in the 200 backstroke in 2018-19.

While Nebraska’s six-pack of seniors will be leaned on for leadership, NU’s nine returning juniors will hope to produce major points at the Big Ten and NCAA Championship level.

The Big Red’s junior class features the most accomplished diver in Husker history in Knapton. The Omaha Marian High School graduate became the first Husker diver in history to earn back-to-back first-team All-America honors with her eighth-place finish on the platform at the 2018 NCAA Championships. It followed a fourth-place showing on the same event at nationals in 2017.

Knapton pitched in a 22nd-place finish on the three-meter board at the 2018 NCAA Championships, an eight-spot improvement over her finish at the 2017 national meet. Knapton will be the elder stateswoman among a talented collection of five Husker divers in 2018-19.

She will be joined by sophomore Grace Tiernon, and freshmen Jessica Warak, Sara Troyer and Hallie Roman.

Warak is a two-time Nebraska High School state champion who has significant national and international experience. Troyer captured an Indiana High School state title as a senior in 2018, while Roman was a three-time Michigan high school state diving qualifier.

Nebraska’s junior swimmers also are expected to play a major role in the Husker ascension.Tori Beeler is coming off a sensational second season at Nebraska. The junior from Parkville, Mo., earned top-16 Big Ten Championship finishes in both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes. She also set a school record in the 200 IM with a time of 1:59.02 to finish 18th at the conference meet.

Beeler’s ability to slash times and potentially score big points in three events at the league meet make her a crucial component to Nebraska’s success.

Beeler and fellow junior Gwen Worlton have helped each other climb the ladder in the conference standings in their first two seasons. Last year, Worlton finished just behind Beeler in the 200 breast (18th) at the Big Ten meet. It represented a 21-spot jump in the standings for Worlton after she finished 39th at the league meet as a freshman.

Worlton also swam a leg of Nebraska’s school-record-setting 400 medley relay team in 2017-18, and added a swim on the 200-yard medley relay team that posted the second-fastest time in Husker history.

Carla Gonzalez-Garcia saw similar gains across her events in her second season with the Huskers. The junior from Merida, Venezuela vaulted 25 spots to 27th at the 2018 Big Ten meet. She added a 23-place improvement to 27th in the 100 backstroke, while climbing 18 spots in the 200 back at the conference meet.

Gonzalez-Garcia’s huge improvements are a testament to training programs in place to help the Huskers.

Juniors Shea Bougie, Abigail Greeneway, Savannah Savitt, Lindsey Stalheim and Allie Worrall all saw faster times in the pool as sophomores, and are hoping for breakout performances in their third seasons in Lincoln.

Nebraska’s sophomore class made a major impact as freshmen, and the young Huskers are hoping to show even more in 2018-19.

Haebig, a sophomore from Grafton, Wis., got her Husker career off to an impressive start by earning spots at the NCAA Championships in the 100 back and the 500 free.

Haebig finished 40th in the backstroke at nationals after shattering the school record in the event at the NCAA Last Chance meet in Columbia, Mo. Haebig’s time of 52.29 broke Erin Oeltjen’s previous school mark by 1.14 seconds.

It wasn’t the only school record the 14-time Wisconsin high school state champion set in her first season at Nebraska. Haebig added a school-record swim of 4:42.69 in the 500 free at the Big Ten Championships. She went on to finish 43rd in the event at the 2018 NCAA Championships to complete her first appearance at nationals.

Haebig was also a member of Nebraska’s school-record-setting 400-yard medley relay team that raced to a time of 3:36.03. That relay, which returns intact with fellow sophomore Izzie Murray, along with Worlton and Helferich, also joined forces for the second-best 200 medley relay time (1:39.43) in Nebraska history. 

Haebig was also a member of the 800 free relay squad that posted the second-best mark in Husker history (7:11.60), while also recording the second-best individual time in school history in the 200 free (1:46.22). At the Big Ten level, Haebig knocked on the door of final appearances in the 100 back (10th), 200 free (12th) and 500 free (17th) while slashing times in all three events throughout the season.

Murray joined Haebig on the 200 and 400 medley relay teams, and also began to make a name for herself in Nebraska’s individual events. The sophomore from North Bend, Ohio, produced top-24 finishes in both the 100 butterfly (23rd) and 200 fly (24th) at the Big Ten meet. Her 53.72 in the 100 fly at the conference championships marked the fourth-fastest time in Husker history. Murray edged ahead of Posthuma on Nebraska’s all-time top five in the 100 fly, and both swimmers could push each other in training to challenge school records in the butterfly events in 2018-19.

Allison Kopas, a sophomore from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., added another top-24 Big Ten finish for the class. She took 23rd in the 400 IM at the conference meet to post the fourth-best time in Husker history. Kopas also nudged ahead of the senior McDonald on NU’s top five, while fellow sophomore Madison Coughlen finished just outside the top-24 in 25th.

Kopas, Coughlen and McDonald could all challenge the school record in the 400 IM this season - an event where Olympian Emma Johnson and All-American Lauren Bailey own two of the top three times in Husker history. 

Sophomores Sutton Marvin, Jessica Pentlarge, Rachel Powers and Mira Rhodes have all demonstrated the potential to push for top-24 Big Ten finishes in their second seasons at Nebraska after competing as freshmen at the 2018 conference championships. Fellow sophomore Clara Walstad hopes to make her first appearance at the Big Ten Championships for the Huskers this season.

Nebraska’s strong recruiting class of freshman swimmers is led by Maggie Berning from Kettering, Ohio. Berning finished 12th at the Speedo Long Course Junior Nationals in the 200-meter butterfly in 2018, after posting a pair of top-eight finishes at the Ohio high school championships in the 500 (5th) and 200 free (7th) as a senior at Fairmont High School.

Audrey Coffey adds another talented distance freestyler for the Huskers in 2018-19. Coffey, who joined Berning as a top-300 recruit nationally, won the 2018 Illinois Senior Long Course Championship in the 1,500 meters in 2018. She added a state runner-up finish in the 800 free.

Coffey comes to Nebraska from the same high school (Naperville Central) that produced recent Husker four-year letterwinner and team captain Julia Roller (2014-17). Coffey’s current career bests put her in position to challenge for immediate scoring opportunities for the Huskers at the 2019 Big Ten Championships.

Taylor Acheson adds a versatile swimmer to the Husker class of newcomers. The freshman was one of the top swimmers in the Kansas City area in 2018. She could help the Huskers in both the freestyle and individual medley events.

Arkansas High School Swimmer of the Year Olivia Keith adds another versatile swimmer for the Big Red. A two-time Arkansas Class 7A state champion at Fayetteville High School and a six-time all-state selection, Keith won the 100 free and finished second in the 200 IM at the 2018 Arkansas state meet.

Floridian Katelyn Kilpatrick adds a powerful passion in the pool for the Big Red distance freestylers. Kilpatrick was the Florida Class 3A state champion in the 500 free as a junior at Vanguard High School in 2017. She finished 19th at the 2018 Speedo Long Course Junior Nationals in the 800 free, while adding a 32nd-place finish in the 1,500 free. In 2015, Kilpatrick finished 32nd in the USA Swimming 5K (1:10.37.99).

The Huskers will hit the water early in 2018-19, squaring off with South Dakota State at the Devaney Natatorium on Friday, Sept. 28, at 5 p.m. It will mark the earliest dual (or regular-season invitational) competition in Nebraska history.

The Big Red return to the Devaney Center the following weekend to participate in the annual Scarlet vs. Cream Intrasquad meet (Oct. 5 , 4 p.m.) before clashing with Northern Iowa (Oct. 6, 11 a.m.).

Nebraska makes its first road dual appearance at Iowa State (Oct. 26, 5 p.m.), before battling traditional rival Kansas at the Devaney Natatorium (Nov. 3, 2 p.m.).

The Huskers will spend the next two months in invitational action at the Big Ten/ACC Swim & Dive Challenge (Nov. 10-11), the Hawkeye Invitational (Nov. 15-17), USA Swimming Winter Nationals (Nov. 28-Dec. 1) and the CAMO International Diving Invitational (Nov. 29-Dec. 2).

Nebraska returns to home dual action against Omaha (Jan. 12, 2 p.m.) at Devaney, before closing the regular season with a pair of Big Ten duals. The Huskers head to Illinois (Jan. 26, 11 a.m.), before celebrating Senior Day against Rutgers in a two-day competition (Feb. 1-2).

The Big Red will battle the conference’s best at the 2019 Big Ten Championships in Bloomington, Ind. (Feb. 20-23). Several Husker swimmers will likely compete at the NCAA Last Chance Meet in Columbia, Mo., March 2-3, hoping to punch their tickets to nationals.

The Husker divers will hope to end their seasons with back-to-back meets at the Lee & Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center in Austin, starting with the NCAA Zone Diving Meet (March 11-13) and concluding with the 2019 NCAA Championships (March 20-23).

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