Hulseman hopes for happy ending

Jim Schortemeyer

The scenario is almost too perfect for Erik Hulseman.
Back in 1994, Hulseman was just putting the wraps on his prep career at Edina High School. He closed it out in style, winning the Minnesota state championship in the 100-yard backstroke and as a member of the 200-yard medley relay team.
Now Hulseman is a senior, and a captain of the Gophers men’s swimming and diving team. He’s getting ready for the Big Ten championships — a chance to beat rival Michigan again, and in a pool less than 10 miles from where he grew up.
“To beat them here, at this pool, would be awesome,” Hulseman said.
It’s come down to two meets for Hulseman; this weekend’s Big Tens at the Aquatic Center and the NCAA Championships in late March in Auburn, Ala.
Four years ago, however, Hulseman couldn’t envision his first college meet, let alone his last. When he had to decide on a college, he wasn’t sure where to go.
One could say he fell into the Gophers’ laps.
“Everything about the program fit, and it was the cheapest,” Hulseman said.
Minnesota had a reason to want Hulseman. He was an All-American in both the backstroke and the medley relay team. Plus, it didn’t hurt that his high school coach, Art Dowling, is in the Minnesota Swimming Hall of Fame.
“We recruit every good swimmer from Minnesota,” Gophers head coach Dennis Dale said. “We’re very pleased he came to Minnesota.”
Last year, Hulseman and three other swimmers won the Big Ten Championship in the 200-yard medley relay, and took fifth place at the NCAA Championships.
“He was the first of our school, of the swimmers, who was on that awards stand,” Dowling said.
To get to this point in his career, Hulseman has had to put in long hours in the pool and the training room.
“He brings a commitment to be as good as he can be,” Dale said.
Dale said he is impressed by how Hulseman has avoided forming rivalries with the other swimmers. If he finds something that helps him, he shares it with the others.
Hulseman’s attitude has helped the backstrokers become one of the premier groups of swimmers on the team.
“I’d feel like I was cheating the guy,” Hulseman said of his information sharing. “If he can go faster, then I have to go faster.”
Going faster will be imperative this weekend at Big Tens. The competition within the conference is as stiff as it ever has been for Hulseman, and the rest of the Gophers swimmers. Last year, Michigan won the team title by a scant margin of 17 points.
The year before that, however, the Gophers snapped Michigan’s streak of 11 consecutive championships. The Wolverines brushed off their loss at that meet, saying they were tapering for the Olympics, and thus swam slower.
Hulseman relishes the opportunity to beat Michigan with no excuses. He is hoping for a home-pool advantage during the championships, held Thursday through Saturday.
Looking at the national swimming rankings isn’t any help in figuring out a favorite for the championships. Michigan is ranked seventh, while Minnesota has languished just outside the top ten all season. Minnesota was ranked beneath Michigan when the Gophers won the championship two years ago.
In Hulseman’s perfect world, the same would happen this year, and a local boy would finish his Big Ten career with a conference title in a pool he first jumped into in high school.
As far as the NCAA Championships go, Hulseman and the rest of the 200-yard medley relay team are expected to be faster this year. Three of the four members from last year’s medley relay team are back. People in Edina are hoping Hulseman can improve on last year’s already impressive result.
“I hope to see him on top of the awards stand in Auburn,” Dowling said.