Minnesota to swim for fifth consecutive Big Ten title

The Gophers will bring 15 freshmen to compete in the final Big Ten meet.

Sophomore Danielle Nack competes in the Women's 100 Yard Backstroke during the 2016 Minnesota Challenge at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center on Saturday, Feb. 6.

Niti Gupta, Daily File Photo

Sophomore Danielle Nack competes in the Women’s 100 Yard Backstroke during the 2016 Minnesota Challenge at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center on Saturday, Feb. 6.

Thomas Jaakola

The Gophers women’s swimming and diving team will have a chance this week to add to an already impressive winning streak.
 
 
Minnesota will compete for its fifth consecutive Big Ten title starting on Wednesday, after winning a program-record fourth consecutive championship last season.
 
 
The meet, which takes place in Ann Arbor, Mich., will last through Saturday.
 
 
“I do think people think there is stress and pressure for us to win a fifth straight title,” sophomore Danielle Nack said. “However, I know the team and I aren’t looking at it as pressure. We just want to go out and have fun.”
 
 
The Gophers’ roster is much different now than a season ago, with 15 freshmen traveling to the Big Ten meet. The rookies make up more than half of Minnesota’s competitors.
 
 
The Gophers’ top freshmen include Zoe Avestruz, who has a chance of breaking the school record in the 100 backstroke swimming after rest.
 
 
Freshman Rachel Munson won the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award twice this season, and she holds the team’s top times in the 100 and 200 breaststroke this year.
 
 
“We’re such a young team,” head coach Kelly Kremer said. “There’s a lot of question marks, and with that comes a lot of excitement and a lot of unknown.”
 
 
The Gophers return two individual champions from last year’s Big Ten meet, including sophomore Brooke Zeiger, who broke the school record in the 400 individual medley with a time of 4:03.28 at last year’s Big Ten Championships.
 
 
“I’m excited to be heading into Big Tens with a young team ready to experience their first championship,” Zeiger said. “It’s really exciting seeing everyone so ready.”
 
 
The other returning individual Big Ten champion for Minnesota is junior diver Yu Zhou, who won the 1-meter and 3-meter events.
 
 
The Gophers enter the meet ranked No. 24 in the College Swimming Coaches Association of America poll, sixth among Big Ten teams.
 
 
Still, Nack said, the team is confident.
 
 
“[W]e all know we are ready to throw down some fast performances,” she said. “I know we are going in as the underdogs, which makes it more fun because there is no stress. You can just go in [and] swim really fast and make people be like, ‘Whoa, who are these people?’ ”
 
 
The conference meet will be scored differently this year, with the top 24 earning points instead of the top 16. The change means depth will be more important as ever as Minnesota competes for its fifth consecutive title.
 
 
“I think the sky is the limit in terms of what they can accomplish, but we’re going to go in, and our goal is really just to give our best, and let’s see what happens when the dust settles,” Kremer said.