The Gophers men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams took a break from their regular collegiate competition this Thursday through Saturday and instead faced off against some of the sport’s best in the Arena Grand Prix at the University Aquatic Center.
The Minneapolis meet was the first in the 2013-14 Arena Grand Prix Series, which will travel to five other cities during the next seven months.
And while the Gophers competed against Olympic-caliber opponents, they didn’t sink in comparison.
“That can happen in every sport, where you play to your competition; so to speak,” head men’s and women’s coach Kelly Kremer said. “I was so happy to see our team swim up to the competition. I think we performed much better because of [it].”
The women’s team started the weekend strong Thursday night, boasting three second-place finishes and grabbing the top two spots in the 400-yard freestyle relay.
Gophers junior Kiera Janzen took home two second-place finishes and was just 0.14 seconds behind the leader in the 200 freestyle.
“This was her first meet with international competition,” Kremer said. “[It was] her first meet as a national teamer, and I thought she handled it great.”
Janzen lost to Athens Bulldog Swim Club member Megan Romano, who holds American, U.S. Open and NCAA records in the event.
Swimmers of her caliber and beyond were the norm throughout the weekend.
The Gophers faced off against plenty of record-holders, Olympians and even Olympic medalists.
But the Gophers weren’t fazed by the level of competition.
“When you’re in that race, it’s just competition,” senior captain Luke Bushman said. “You don’t see Olympic medals. You don’t see Olympians. You just see the guy next to you. You’re just trying to get your hand on the wall first.”
The women were able to touch first eight times throughout the competition.
Janzen won the 500 freestyle, 1,650 freestyle and 800 freestyle relay. Sophomore Kierra Smith won the 200 breaststroke, 200 individual medley and 400 medley relay. Senior Tess Behrens was also on Smith’s winning relay team and won the 200 backstroke. The women also won the 400 freestyle relay.
“The thing that sets our women’s team apart from some other programs … is that they truly enjoy the competition,” head women’s coach Terry Nieszner said. “There was no fear involved … [and] they look forward to it. They can’t wait to race. They can’t wait to compete.”
Though the men only recorded two wins — in the 400 freestyle relay and 400 medley relay — the grueling three-day Grand Prix helped both teams prepare for longer meets like the Big Ten and NCAA championships later in the season.
“It’s a lot of racing, but that’s something they’re going to have to get used to,” Kremer said. “They rose to that occasion.”