Minnesota to honor legendary coach over weekend

The Aquatic Center will be renamed the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center.

Danny Chen

After racking up 25 first-place finishes at the Jean Freeman Invite last year, the Gophers are looking for a repeat performance this weekend.

The invite has been an annual event at the University Aquatic Center since 2012, in honor of legendary Gophers women’s swimming and diving coach Jean Freeman.

Freeman died at the age of 60 in 2010 after an ongoing fight with cancer.

She spent 31 years as the Gophers’ head women’s swimming and diving coach before retiring during the 2003-04 season.

In Freeman’s tenure as coach, the women’s team won back-to-back Big Ten championships in 1999 and 2000, and she won Big Ten Coach of the Year four times.

The University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development will rename the Aquatic Center after her on Saturday.

“I think the main thing about this event is being able to honor Jean,” assistant coach Steve Miller said. “We are excited to honor her in such a way, to host so many great teams here [at the Aquatic Center].”

Last year, the men’s team won 14 out of a possible 20 events at the Jean Freeman Invite, while the women’s team won 11.

Current Gophers that stood out at the event were sophomore Daryl Turner, senior Blake Zeiger and junior Manny Pollard.

Turner won the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard backstroke in the individual events, and he helped the team win four relays.

Zeiger took first in the 50-yard freestyle and participated in three relay events.

She said last year’s event was fun, and she hopes that this year is the same.

“The [Jean Freeman Invite] is a great opportunity to do some in-season racing,” Zeiger said. “I’m excited to participate again this year.”

Pollard took first in the 1-meter diving competition, while teammates Nick Rodriguez and Erik Larsen took second and third, respectively, to sweep the competition.

“We have a great team,” Pollard said. “[Sweeping] the competition gives everyone [on the team] the confidence that we need going into the championships. This year, we have the potential to do really well again. If we have the confidence going in, and train with that confidence, it’ll be great.”

Head men’s and women’s diving coach Wenbo Chen said he told his athletes the competition isn’t something to cause worry.

“The major thing is to compete with yourself. The [Jean Freeman Invite] is a great training opportunity. It is [also] a good opportunity to bring everyone back after the [Thanksgiving] holidays,” Chen said.