Gophers a favorite for Big Ten crown

Krista Theis

Minnesota’s men’s swimming and diving team is on a mission this weekend to win its third Big Ten title in four years.

Ohio State is hosting the 2007 Big Ten Championships this Friday through Sunday, as inclement weather pushed the start back one day.

The Gophers reigned as champions in 2004 and 2005 but came up a little short last year when they took second behind Indiana.

Minnesota coach Dennis Dale said the team’s goal is to win the meet and take back its title, but he said he expects strong competition from other teams.

“We expect that there will be a real good battle at the top of the meet,” Dale said. “There are four teams that will battle and we’re one of the four teams.”

Dale said he thinks the three others who will be the 10th-ranked Gophers’ biggest competition are No. 11 Indiana, No. 12 Michigan and No. 13 Ohio State.

Although Northwestern is the highest nationally ranked Big Ten team at No. 6, Dale said he doesn’t think the Wildcats will win.

Minnesota senior Dan Berve said he also anticipates it will be challenging to bring home the title this weekend, but that the team is prepared and knows what to expect.

“This is the deepest Big Ten meet I have been a part of,” Berve said in a statement. “It is going to be a dogfight with a few other teams, but we are equipped to win a title.”

In order to succeed this weekend, Dale said the Gophers can’t only concentrate on the other teams’ performances, though.

“We have to primarily focus on ourselves and make sure we do our job,” Dale said. “Hopefully if we perform well, that’ll be all we need.”

Besides working toward a Big Ten title, Minnesota is using this weekend’s meet to qualify for the NCAA Championships, which the Gophers will host March 15 through March 17.

“Right now they’re focused on doing their best at Big Tens because not only is that the way to win, but also the way to qualify our swimmers for NCAAs,” Dale said.

At last year’s Big Ten Championships, the Gophers had success in multiple events, including a first-place finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay.

All five of Minnesota’s relay teams are undefeated this season, and Berve said he thinks they will have continued success this weekend.

“Our relays are one of our strengths as a team,” Berve said in a statement. “We would like to get all of our relays to the NCAAs like we did last year, and if we swim well, all of them have a shot to win a title.”

Dale said he would like to see the team win the 400-yard freestyle relay, but thinks the Gophers’ best chance to place first is in any of the freestyle relays.

He’d overall like to see the men perform at their lifetime best this weekend, but explained that winning events is not necessary to win the meet.

“I don’t think that we can win any events,” Dale said. “But we can put a lot of people in the finals and that’s what we need to do to win the meet.”

Minnesota has many talented swimmers with experience and success at Big Tens, including senior Igor Cerensek who took second in the 50-yard freestyle, third in the 100-yard freestyle last year and was a contributing member of the first place 400-yard freestyle relay.

Junior David Plummer took third in the 100-yard and 200-yard backstroke events last year and was also a part of the 400-yard medley relay.

Berve also had a strong showing last year, placing seventh in the 100-yard backstroke, eighth in the 100-yard butterfly and 17th in the 200-yard backstroke. He said he wants to improve on his performances and place higher this year.

“I have never scored in three events before,” Berve said in a statement. “So I would like to make that happen in the 200 back this year.”

Although some might think the change in schedule could affect some swimmers’ focus and concentration, Dale said he thinks it will have the opposite affect.

“The fact that the meet is moved back a day can actually offset the struggles we occurred trying to get to Ohio,” Dale said. “I think it will make all the teams perform better.”