Minnesota looks for fourth consecutive conference title

The team will head to the Big Ten championships this week in Ohio.

Danny Chen

No Gophers women’s athletic program has won four consecutive Big Ten titles.

For the Gophers swimming team, this might be the year to achieve that accomplishment.

Minnesota will compete in the Big Ten championships starting Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio, as the three-time defending champion.

In last year’s competition, the Gophers dominated other Big Ten schools, finishing with 760 points, 111 more points than second-place Indiana and 276 more points than Penn State in third place.

Minnesota hosted the 2014 Big Ten championships, and senior Kiera Janzen said it was special to win the third one at home.

“I grew up in Minnesota and grew up swimming in big meets here at the Aquatic Center,” Janzen said. “So having the opportunity to represent the University of Minnesota at meets that are at the elite level of Big Tens and the NCAAs in our home pool was really special. It was amazing to compete in that sort of environment.”

Last year, Janzen finished first in the 800-yard freestyle relay, fourth in the 500-yard freestyle, fifth in the 200-yard freestyle and ninth in the 1,650-yard freestyle.

She earned First Team All-Big Ten for her performance.

For Janzen, a victory in this year’s championship meet would mean four rings for her career as a Gophers swimmer.

“It would be amazing to win Big Tens each year of my college career,” Janzen said. “Winning four in a row would be a historic achievement, and it would be awesome to be a part of that.”

The 2015 Big Ten championships also come with high expectations for junior Kierra Smith.

Smith led the Gophers with 55 points at the 2014 Big Ten championships and swept the competition in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke.

“I expect to win [those two events] again,” Smith said. “My 200[-yard breaststroke], I am trying to get ready for the NCAAs, so I am going to focus a lot on that and make sure all the details are right. For the 100[-yard breaststroke], it’s the weaker event out of the two, so I am going to sprint the fastest that I can.”

Senior associate head coach Terry Ganley said she expects Smith will be ready to go.

“Performing her best is definitely a goal for [Smith],” Ganley said. “At this point, she knows that her ultimate goal is the NCAAs.”

Ganley said she thinks the Big Ten is the best conference in the country for swimming, and she expects the most out of the championship meet this year.

“I’ve been coaching a long time, and I can tell you that [the Big Ten] is a tough conference,” Ganley said. “It will be a fun championship meet, and it is a privilege to be a part of it. I am certainly proud that Minnesota will be in the mix to be one of the top teams.”