With Big Tens two weeks out, Minnesota is fine-tuning

The No. 8 Gophers still have two Big Ten teams ranked ahead of them.

The final swim meet of the season this weekend doesn’t seem to be giving Minnesota much to worry about.

The No. 8 Gophers are hosting the Minnesota Challenge tonight and Saturday at the University Aquatic Center. They will use the opportunity to honor their seniors and fine-tune before they head to the Big Ten championships in two weeks.

Schools from around the area, such as Minnesota State, St. Cloud State and South Dakota State, will participate in the event, with Minnesota sending off a senior class that has grown into a strong group of competitors during their four years on campus.

“This is a group of seniors that didn’t come in with a lot of fanfare, but they quickly developed into a nucleus of very fine swimmers,” coach Dennis Dale said.

The senior class was not highly recruited by top-tier colleges, Dale said. But they helped the Gophers capture two Big Ten championships in three years.

“I can’t imagine going anywhere else and swimming,” senior Tyler Schmidt said. “It’s been nothing but a good experience for me.”

Conference foes Michigan and Indiana still sit ahead of Minnesota in the rankings, but the Gophers are using this weekend to work on the “finer” points of swimming to prepare to make another run at a Big Ten title.

“We’ve put in all the work, now you have to shift gears,” Schmidt said. “Instead of working your butt off in practice, you need to work on technique and fine-tuning those little things like relay starts, finishes, turns, breakouts that are in between the swimming.”

Minnesota ran into trouble on the first day of last weekend’s meet at Purdue, but recovered on the second day to win some of the events they had lost earlier. Their ability to bounce back impressed Dale, but he said his team will have to swim their best from the beginning to make a conference title run.

“We know that from the get-go we have to perform in the prelims,” Dale said. “I think at meets like the Big Ten championships you have to perform great in the prelims. If you don’t perform great in the prelims, you lose the meet. No one wants to be a spectator at night.”

Women prep for championship season

The women’s team dropped one spot in the rankings this week to No. 9, but is hoping to use the Minnesota Challenge this weekend to get into championship form before they head off for the Big Ten competition.

“It’s that first taste of the championship season, where you have some of your kids that are fully prepared for this meet,” co-head coach Kelly Kremer said. “There’s that excitement that comes with swimming fast, that kind of jump-starts the rest of our team to get excited about their big meets coming up.”

This meet will have a more relaxed atmosphere, and the swimmers will have an opportunity to compete in events that they don’t normally swim, Kremer said.

With the regular season coming to an end this weekend, the Gophers have started to decrease their work load and perfect everything, aiming to turn in their best times of the year at the Big Ten championships. But most importantly, this weekend will provide a boost in confidence.

“It’s those little things that we’d like to see sharpen up,” Kremer said. “You really want to come out of this feeling good about where your team is at.”