Host Gophers finish 16th at women’s swim meet

Jim Schortemeyer

When Minnesota last hosted the NCAA women’s swimming and diving championships in 1993, 17 of the Aquatic Center’s 21 pool records went into the books. The March 19-21 encore gave a new breed of swimmers a shot at those records, and they didn’t disappoint.
When the vapor cleared last weekend, 11 pool records and six NCAA records had fallen. Three of the NCAA times qualified as American records as well.
The times were fastest for swimmers from warm climates. Stanford won its eighth team title, comfortably ahead of second-place Arizona and third-place Georgia. Minnesota finished in 16th place, behind Big Ten rivals Michigan (7th), Northwestern (10th) and Wisconsin (14th).
“This is a great pool,” Stanford coach Richard Quick said. “I really believe the community and the University of Minnesota, with their hospitality, is all positive. There’s nothing negative here in Minneapolis.”
Minnesota’s results weren’t so positive, however. Eight of the ten swimmers the Gophers qualified swam slower than their seed times. Head coach Jean Freeman placed some of the blame on training problems.
“Looking back, I would say some of (the swimmers) need to go back and do the hard-work section harder,” Freeman said.
Diver T.D. Rowe was Minnesota’s lone entrant in the diving portion of competition and managed to finish as high as 19th out of the three diving heights, narrowly missing the semi-finals.
From the opening race, it was obvious the meet was going to be fast. The pool record in the 500-yard freestyle was broken three times in the preliminary — and typically slower — morning heats. Times were so fast that even if Minnesota put up school-record times in every event, their results wouldn’t have placed in the top 10 for most events.
Laid-back was the name of the game before the meet. Swimmers and coaches alike expressed excitement to get in the pool and have fun.
“It’s a big party and you just go and play,” Stanford’s Catherine Fox said.
But during the meet, smiles were rare. Tension and intensity built throughout the meet, caused by a close scoring race. The first day of competition saw three lead changes between Arizona, Georgia and Stanford. By the end of the day, Stanford was on top by more than 20 points, a margin it maintained for the majority of the competition. Georgia whittled the lead to six points with two events left, but Stanford placed first and second in those events, finishing the meet ahead by 40 points.
The tense teams didn’t help, but many of the swimmers turned in clutch performances. Southern Methodist’s Martina Moravcova became the first back-to-back, three-event winner since Summer Sanders did it in 1991-92. Moravcova dominated the freestyle events this year and last, to take home her six individual crowns. Despite her wins, Southern Methodist finished out of the running in 4th, leaving Moravcova unimpressed with her results.
“I kind of knew it was going to be an average meet for me, and fortunately that was enough,” Moravcova said.
Stanford’s Fox went crazy in the backstroke and 50-yard freestyle to pull out two individual championships, as well as a relay. For Fox, the results added to an impressive resume, which already includes two Olympic gold medals from Atlanta. Stanford’s team title was their eighth of all time, giving them a one-win lead over Texas on the all-time ledger.
The Gophers’ 16th-place finish was on-par with recent performances. Minnesota has finished between 10th and 19th in five of the last six years, and has never finished higher than tenth.
Minnesota’s coaches were not surprised by the team’s finish. Freeman cited the lack of sprinters the team qualified as a reason for their showing. Given the swimmers in competition, the Gophers feel they did the best they could.
“I’m happy that we’re in 16th, actually,” Freeman said.
Minnesota could be relegated to its position for some time to come. The Pac-10, Big-12 and SEC hold all 18 NCAA team championships between them.