Men’s swimmers ready for Big Ten showdown

by Jim Schortemeyer

The stage is set for a dramatic and assuredly close Big Ten men’s swimming and diving championship, starting today at the University Aquatic Center.
For 10 years, starting in 1986, Michigan was the Big Ten Champion in men’s swimming and diving. But a funny thing happened on their way to the way to a 11th consecutive championship — Minnesota beat the Wolverines soundly. Last year, Michigan exacted it’s revenge, winning back the championship by 17 points.
It should be a battle between those two teams again this year.
If the Gophers hold true to form, they will get off to a good start. At last year’s championships, Minnesota jumped out to a 200-178 lead on the first day of competition, but slowly fell back to Michigan, eventually losing 648-631.
The good news for Minnesota is that it has found ample replacements for the swimmers and divers it lost last year.
All of freshman Alex Massura’s statistics are impressive. He has Minnesota’s top six times in the 200-yard backstroke, and he has a total of 16 first-place finishes in various events this year. Perhaps the most impressive fact is that he’s already broken a school record. Most records fall during the championships, when swimmers are rested.
Diver Dan Croaston, another freshman, has come through for the Gophers so far this season, and Minnesota coaches are hoping he remains consistent. Earlier in the year, coaches said they hoped for a top eight finish from Croaston. Their expectations may need an adjustment — Croaston won all but one diving competition this year.
Minnesota stands to get the most points from its relay teams. The Gophers return three of four members from last year’s Big Ten champion 200 freestyle, 400 freestyle and 200 medley relay teams. The addition of Massura to some of the relay teams should make the Gophers just as strong or stronger.
Last week, the women’s 200-yard medley relay team was favored to repeat as Big Ten champions, but swam its way to a cautious second place. Minnesota coach Dennis Dale, however, is not concerned about having a similar result.
“We’re not worried about being conservative,” said Dale.
The bad news for Minnesota is that Michigan is almost as strong as ever. Nine of the swimmers on Michigan’s roster qualified for the World Championships in Perth, Australia, this year. The Wolverines’ Tom Dolan and Marcel Wouda finished 1-2 in the 400 individual medley. Wouda came back to take the 200 individual medley crown. Former U.S. Olympian Tom Malchow was also at the championships, taking home a bronze in the 200 butterfly.
The rankings also point to an edge for the Wolverines. Michigan has been ranked No. 7 nearly all year, while Minnesota has been between 12th and 14th.
“Our swimmers look at the rankings, shake their heads, and forget about it,” Dale said.
The best individual match-up may come in Saturday’s competition, when the meet may be on the line. Minnesota’s Martin Zielinski will match up with Malchow. Zielinski is the school record holder in both the 100 and 200 butterfly, and is last year’s Big Ten champion in the 100. Malchow won a silver medal in the 1996 Olympics in the 200.
This may prove to be Minnesota’s best chance to beat Michigan at the Big Ten champions for quite a while. Michigan has signed six highly touted recruits, and will be even better next year. But this year is anyone’s guess.
“I think it’s even this year,” senior captain Eriek Hulseman said. “It’s going to come down to whoever wants it most.”