U stays strong, finishes fifth at Big Ten meet

The finish was Minnesota’s women’s swimming and diving team’s best since 2000.

Kent Erdahl

The weekend portion of the Big Ten Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, held at the University Aquatic Center, could have been compared to a certain big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, at least in terms of thrills. There were plenty of dramatic moments, flowing tears, superhuman feats, pyrotechnics and even fully clothed people drenched from head to toe.

The weekend began after a trumpet player performing the national anthem finished with a dive off the 10-meter platform in a tuxedo. It came to an end after Michigan won a Big Ten title and the entire team, including the coaching staff, jumped into the pool.

The Wolverines won with 604.5 team points, followed by Penn State (590.5), Indiana (563.5), Wisconsin (503) and Minnesota (412.5).

Although the Gophers finished a distant fifth, they set several team records and achieved many personal-best times.

“I’m really happy,” coach Jean Freeman said. “Michigan swam great, and we’re on a progression to get back to the top.”

Freeman hopes the Gophers’ push toward the top will continue with junior Katy Coombe, who finished her stellar week by placing fifth in the 100-meter freestyle with a personal-best time of 50.12, and by being named second team all-Big Ten.

“Nothing really sank in until I found out I finished my last race, and I realized how well I had swam this week,” Coombe said. “I never really thought of myself being in contention for that type of award.”

In addition to Coombe, Minnesota senior swimmers Megan Moore, Carol Crouthamel, Sarah Bohlsen, Juleen Rodakowski and Melissa Schold did their part by contributing 88 team points from individual events during Friday and Saturday alone.

“We really went out with a bang,” Moore said. “There were some great performances.”

Several of those finishes were personal bests for the seniors, including Moore’s emotional final in the 200-yard backstroke.

Moore finished sixth with a time of 1:59.92 but broke the two-minute threshold for the first time in her career with the Gophers.

“I’ve been trying for four years, and I never thought I could do it,” Moore said. “When I actually got it, I was completely overwhelmed and just started bawling. It was probably the best way I could have ended my career.”

Despite the final standings, Michigan remained two points behind Penn State going in to the last event when the Wolverines swam a blistering time of 3:18.95 in the 400-yard freestyle relay to win the event and the championship. The Lions’ relay finished seventh in 3:23.49.

“We knew what the total was,” Michigan coach Jim Richardson said. “We knew we just needed to finish one place ahead of them.”

Michigan’s fast finish wasn’t the only top performance of the weekend.

On Friday, Penn State’s 400-yard medley relay swam the fastest time in the nation in 3:36.56, and Wisconsin’s Bethany Pendleton set the new national benchmark in the 400-yard individual medley with a time of 4:08.92. Pendleton’s performance helped her become the Big Ten swimmer of the championships and of the year.