Swimmers seek record finish

by Ryan Schuster

Minnesota’s women’s swimming and diving squad is in the midst of perhaps the best season in school history. This week in Indianapolis the No. 8 Gophers have an opportunity to set or tie the all-time team record for highest NCAA finish, which was set in 1992 when Minnesota finished 10th in the nation.
The Gophers lost only one swimmer to eligibility from last season’s 15th-place team at nationals. Minnesota finished the regular season with a sparkling 15-0 overall record and is coming off a second-place finish at the Big Tens to Michigan, pointing to the probability of an improved NCAA showing this year.
“We have a very good opportunity to move up from last year,” coach Jean Freeman said. “I think the team’s pretty well focused and excited to go. We’ve got one adventure left to top off a great season.”
The team cancelled its NCAA qualifying meet on March 2 so the swimmers could concentrate their efforts on the NCAAs without having to disrupt their training schedule. As a result, Gophers Jessica Grass, Alicia Hicken and the team’s 200-yard freestyle relay narrowly missed qualifying for the NCAAs.
The breakdown of the 10 athletes who did make it to nationals and their chances of scoring points for the Gophers at the 1997 NCAAs is as follows:
Gretchen Hegener
The native of Cologne, Minn., is coming off a stellar performance at the Big Tens where she was named the Big Ten co-swimmer of the year along with Michigan freshman Shannon Shakespeare. Hegener was the Gophers’ top scorer at the meet, tallying 49 points and winning two of the three individual events in which she was entered with personal-best times.
She will compete in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events and the 200 freestyle relay, the 200 medley relay, the 400 freestyle relay and the 400 medley relay events at the NCAAs. Hegener is expected to finish in the top five in both individual events in which she is entered but should face some stiff competition.
The junior swimmer is the top seed in the 100 breaststroke and is in a tie for a No. 2 seed in the 200 breaststroke. Her top time of 1 minute, 0.81 seconds at the Big Tens is the second-fastest time in conference history. But the second- and third-ranked swimmers in the event both have times within 0.08 seconds of her time.
Olga Splichalova
Splichalova will swim in the 500 freestyle, 400 individual medley and both the 400 and 800 freestyle relays. Even though the junior from the Czech Republic won the 500 freestyle and was seventh in the 400 individual medley at the Big Tens, she will face much tougher competition this week.
She should be in the top eight of the 500, but may have a considerably harder race in the 400 individual medley. Splichalova comes into the 400 individual medley race seeded 30th, making her an extreme long shot to score any points in the event. Freeman may decide to have her not compete in the event so she can rest up for the 800 freestyle relay, which will be held the same day.
Tanya Schuh
The 1996 Big Ten Swimmer of the Year and 1997 All-Big Ten team selection will be looking to improve last season’s stellar performance at nationals. A year ago at the NCAAs she placed second in the 100 butterfly, took 13th as a member of the 200 medley relay and 15th on the 400 medley relay team.
Jenny Hennen
The freshman from Anoka, Minn., will swim in seven events at the NCAAs, the maximum allowed in her first time competing at the national meet. She will compete in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle individual events, the 200, 400, 800 freestyle relays and the 400 medley relay during the three-day NCAA meet in Indianapolis. Her best chance at scoring points at the meet will probably come as a member of the 400 medley relay team, which is seeded in the top eight.
The Gophers other six competitors at the NCAAs will be senior divers Andrea Berg and Carrie Hansen, juniors Kim Wilson and Shona Baillie and freshmen Amy Cottrill and Terri Jashinsky.