Smith, Zhou help Minnesota place 12th at NCAAs

Two team members won individual crowns in at the championships.

Danny Chen

Even after posting the ninth-fastest performance in NCAA history in the 200-yard breaststroke during the preliminaries on Saturday, junior Kierra Smith didn’t stop there.

With a time of 2:04.56 in the finals, Smith not only became a national champion, but she also became the third-fastest 200-yard breaststroker on the NCAA all-time list.

Her victory in the event gave the Gophers 20 team points, helping them cement a 12th place finish with 118 points at the 2015 NCAA championships.

Head coach Kelly Kremer said Smith has continued to be consistent for the team.

“This was a big goal of hers, to win a national championship,” Kremer said. “To be able to accomplish it [Saturday], I’m just really proud and happy for her. She certainly deserves it.”

Smith said she was a little more nervous in the preliminaries than during the finals.

“I think that swimming in the morning gave me a lot of confidence going into the night session,” she said. “And at night, I just tried to focus on my technique and do everything that I could to swim faster than I did in prelims.”

Smith also competed in the 100-yard breaststroke, where she took seventh with a time of 59.02.

That gave her team an additional 12 points on the scoreboard.

Despite Smith’s valiant effort for the Gophers, not having six-time All-American Kiera Janzen due to a medical reason affected the team’s placing.

“We’ve had our share of adversities, and losing Kiera Janzen was one of them,” Kremer said. “I just think having Kiera would have gave our team a better chance to compete.”

Janzen placed sixth in the 800-yard freestyle relay last year, along with two seventh-place finishes.

A similar placing in this year’s NCAA championships would have given the Gophers 50 points for a total of 166 points, placing them in seventh instead of 12th.

Nonetheless, Minnesota performed well enough to finish just two places below last year.

That margin could have been larger without the help of sophomore diver Yu Zhou.

Zhou, in her first NCAA championships, became a national champion in the 3-meter competition with 410.25 points.

She also took third in the 1-meter and fifth in the platform competitions.

Before Zhou’s first-place finish in the 3-meter, the Gophers were 16th overall in the NCAAs.

With the additional 20 points from Zhou’s 3-meter performance, the team jumped to 13th.

Diving coach Wenbo Chen said Zhou has been competitive all year.

“Even though we had a difficult year with several injuries, she put it together when it counted,” Chen said. “Especially here in the NCAAs, every finals, she competed the best that she could. I am really happy with how she performed.”

Zhou helped contribute 50 team points and was named the NCAA Diver of the Year.

Although it was not the performance that Kremer expected from his team at the NCAAs, he said the placing does not justify their season overall.

“I think this staff, this team has really hung together and stuck together,” Kremer said. “We ended up having a great season in what was a roller coaster championship season, so I am really proud of the entire program.”