Gophers open season at Michigan

The Gophers men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams will begin their nearly six-month season Friday and Saturday away at Michigan.

Megan Ryan

The Gophers men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams will begin their nearly six-month season Friday and Saturday away at Michigan.

The men are kicking off the season against the best team in the Big Ten conference. Michigan has won the conference championship two years in a row and finished fifth at the NCAA championships — the highest of all Big Ten teams.

“It’s perfect to start with a team like that early,” head men’s and women’s coach Kelly Kremer said. “It’s a good indicator … where we’re at this early point in the season and a good motivator for our student-athletes to have a great start to the year.”

Last year, the Gophers finished fourth at the Big Ten championships and 24th at the NCAA championships.

Even with the fairly decisive gap in results between the two teams, junior captain Derek Toomey said the team is relishing the chance to swim against the Wolverines first.

“I personally am pumped to swim against Michigan first because I think … there is a chance we could catch them off-guard,” Toomey said.

Toomey said the goal for the first meet isn’t necessarily to win but to swim like previous successful Minnesota teams — like the 2007 Big Ten champions.

However, Kremer said each team still wants the victory.

“I’m sure Michigan wants to win, and I know we want to win,” Kremer said. “It’s a competition no matter how you slice it.”

Gophers senior Mikey Ross said Michigan’s swimmers are stronger than their divers on the men’s side.

Head diving coach Wenbo Chen said Michigan’s diving team is building, as head coach KZ Li — a close friend of Chen’s — is only in his third season. But the program has a tradition of good diving, Chen said.

Women

While the men’s team will confront the reigning Big Ten champions, the women have the opposite challenge against the Wolverines.

Minnesota won its first Big Ten championships last year, unseating three-time consecutive winner Indiana.

But Kremer said the team doesn’t feel pressure to start retaining the title in the first meet of the season. Instead, the team is just more competitive.

“They don’t feel like they’re defending anything,” Kremer said. “But the reality is … when you’re at the top of the conference any given year, you kind of feel this need to stay there. And you kind of feel like every team that competes against you is gunning for you a little bit more.”

Senior Haley Spencer said her teammates are focused first on regular season goals before obsessing about the postseason.

“That’s always our goal — to try and go undefeated in dual meets,” Spencer said.

Spencer said the team had a very specific objective last year when it faced Michigan, and the objective remains the same.

“Last year, we went into it saying, ‘OK, we’re just going to annihilate them,’” Spencer said. “Although that sounds kind of rude, at the same time you have to set goals like that.”

For the divers, junior Maggie Keefer had wrist surgery this summer to remove some cysts that bothered her while diving. As a result, she took some time off from training in the summer.

“I don’t feel as ready as I feel like I should, but I think my body will just get into the habit of doing what I know how to do while competing,” Keefer said. “Hopefully it’s an easy meet.”

Chen said he thinks this meet will show the importance of summer training and what work still needs to be done to stay competitive during a long season.

“I think it is probably a good time for testing the team and see how they handle this kind of early pressure,” Chen said.

Quick turnaround

Although the last collegiate meet for the Gophers was in March, many swimmers didn’t stop competing.

Several men’s and women’s swimmers competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials and the U.S. Open championships in the summer. But Toomey said he doesn’t think his team is already worn out before the season begins.

“The guys that were at the Olympic trials I think just found a whole new burn of energy … where they’re just ready to go,” Toomey said.

Kremer, though, said he isn’t as sure.

“I would say that’s what we don’t know, and we’ll find out a lot more this weekend,” Kremer said. “I get the sense that people are ready to have a meet, but it is our first one, and it’s early.”

Luckily for the Gophers, the only real competition will be Friday. On Saturday, Michigan is hosting a “Water Carnival” that will have made-up events, such as an underwater freestyle with fins and a 250-yard medley relay.

While the carnival is still scored, Kremer said it’s mostly for fun and his team will focus more attention to Friday.