BEN CLASSON/Herald photoThe University of Wisconsin women’s swimming team has a new leader at the helm this year — senior Jen Illescas.Illescas, a three-time letter winner from East Elmhurst, N.Y., competed in Wisconsin’s Big Ten opener against Iowa last weekend and made a big statement. She placed first in the 100-yard butterfly, the 200-yard butterfly, the 200-yard freestyle and the 400-yard freestyle relay, helping to catapult the Badgers to a 206-92 victory over the Hawkeyes, sweeping them in all swimming events.Illescas said her main focus during her senior season with the Badgers is to enjoy herself.“I really just want to have fun,” Illescas said. “I want to place higher in the Big Ten, but I also really just want to enjoy my swim team and my teammates.”She also feels she has taken on more of a leadership role with the team.“I see myself as a leader because I’m the oldest,” Illescas said. “I also tend to lead sets in the water, and I try to do everything I can to always push myself and put myself out there so that my teammates can say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to put myself on the line. I’m going to work really hard because then I’ll get the end result that I want.’”Wisconsin head coach Eric Hansen says he also sees Illescas as a role model to her teammates.“I think that the girls’ team looks up to Jen,” Hansen said. “She’s had a lot of success, and she’s climbed the ladder, and the girls look up to her and they want to emulate what she has accomplished. What she says and does is very important to the team.“I think she’s really become a great leader for us and really bought into the whole team concept, and I think our team concept right now is the best it’s ever been in my 10 years here,” Hansen said.Hansen also added he is most proud of Illescas’ personal progress, both in and out of the water.“Her personal achievements and her personal growth have just been amazing this year,” Hansen said. “She has risen to the challenge of leading a group of women to see something that she feels is possible that maybe none of them realized and [showed them] the process of how to get there. It’s been really special.”Illescas also competed in the United States Olympic Trials this past summer, which were held in Omaha, Neb., from June 29 to July 7. She placed 54th in the 200-yard butterfly and clocked in at 2:16:39, a time she says she could have done better on.“I wasn’t really pleased with my trials,” Illescas said. “I didn’t swim my best times or anything. I had actually swam my best times a couple of weeks prior to that, so I wasn’t really happy with my swimming. But I did enjoy the atmosphere and the experience.”Illescas says that preparing for the Olympic trials was different than preparing for a big meet because of the level of intensity and the people she would be competing against.“The Olympic trials are everybody; it’s the top 10 percent of the swimming community,” Illescas said. “Everyone is really fast, so I didn’t prepare for my other [meets]. It’s a much more serious mindset, but training is different too. We get to rest a little bit more, we get mornings off, and we get to sleep in a little bit more.”Hansen felt the team as a whole competed well at the trials.“I think our whole team did really well at the Olympic Trials,” Hansen said. “I think when we evaluate the Olympic Trials, the majority of the team feels the same way. What we did as a team is we took 22 athletes from this university, and we stayed together as a group. We had one of the bigger teams there and we performed really well, and those are the things I look back on and remember. I remember a group of kids that came together and really performed well.”Illescas will compete in Wisconsin’s next meet against Arizona on Oct. 31 in Tucson.
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