Three national champs and a top-10 finish for women in Texas

Kelci Bryant, Jillian Tyler and Haley Spencer led an experienced group of Gophers at the NCAA championships.

by Samuel Gordon

The Minnesota womenâÄôs swimming and diving team traveled to Texas on Tuesday for the NCAA national championships, and returned with three national champions and 13 All-Americans.

Kelci Bryant, Jillian Tyler and Haley Spencer led an experienced group of Gophers to a ninth-place finish. MinnesotaâÄôs 192 team points were a school record, while the University of California won the team championship, its second in the past three years.

Bryant got things started on Thursday with a victory in the 1-meter dive. The junior was runner-up in last yearâÄôs event, but would not be denied this year. Bryant grabbed the lead following the first dive and never relinquished it, as she led after each of the six dives.

âÄúI was thinking through my dive,âÄù Bryant said of her final dive. âÄúI was kind of zoning out. I wasnâÄôt stressing too much. I was having fun. I think I kind of had it in my head that I had [the win] in the bag already. I tried not to focus on what bad could happen.âÄù

Ashley Steenvoorden made a little history of her own that night. The All-American set a school record in the 500-yard freestyle prelims with a time of 4:36.48. She went on to swim a 4:37.11 in the finals, good enough for fourth place and All-America honors.

Minnesota finished out ThursdayâÄôs portion of the championships with a sixth-place finish and All-America honors in the 400-yard medley relay.

Tyler highlighted Friday for the Gophers. The senior clocked a 58.39 in the 100-yard breaststroke to claim her first national title.

âÄúIâÄôm so thankful for the experience. This means the world to me,âÄù Tyler said. âÄúI just put my head down and swam to the finish. You just think about all the hard training weâÄôve done this year. I knew I couldnâÄôt lose it on the last 25. I raced hard to the wall.âÄù

With the victory, Tyler became just the second Gophers swimmer to win the NCAA title in the 100 breast and the first to achieve All-America status four consecutive years in the same event.

On the heels of her championship on the 1-meter board, Bryant finished second in the 3-meter dive. The 2010 3-meter champ finished 13.50 points short of first place and back-to-back titles.

She would go on to be honored as the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Diver of the Championships for her performances.

Junior Kaylee Jamison bettered her school record in the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 52.69 and was an All-America honorable mention, as were the 200-yard medley, and 800-yard freestyle relays.

Through two days, Minnesota had two national champions. Why would it slow down Saturday?

Sophomore Spencer won the title in the 200-yard breaststroke with a time 2:06.12.

âÄúI didnâÄôt know IâÄôd won,âÄù Spencer said. âÄúIn that last 10 yards, I did what I always do. I stuck my head down to go for it.âÄù

Spencer was in fourth place entering the final 25 yards, but rallied with a 32.30 second split to win by a mere six one-hundredths of a second.

âÄúHaley always has a great back half of the race,âÄù co-head coach Kelly Kremer said. âÄúThis isnâÄôt a surprise. Haley has worked really hard all year. What a great way to end the meet.âÄù

Tyler finished fourth after recording the fastest time in the prelims.

Steenvoorden improved upon her school record in the 1650-yard freestyle with a 15:53.80 and a fourth place finish.

âÄúThe Gophers brought a squad here that was prepared and ready to compete,âÄù co-head coach Terry Nieszner said. âÄúThis group made a statement about Minnesota swimming and diving.âÄù