Last year Minnesotaís swimming and diving team lost two very important numbers ó 23 and 13.
And those arenít numbers etched into swimmersí Speedos; they represent how many times former Gophers swimmers Terry Silkaitis and Justin Mortimer were named All-Americans, respectively.
Minnesota graduated two of the best swimmers in school history last year in Silkaitis and Mortimer, and it left the team searching for a new leader.
Not that the search took long.
Coach Dennis Dale said the Gophers had a not-so-secret weapon waiting in the wings ósix-time All-American senior Adam Mitchell.
ìThere is no question Mitchell kind of swam in the shadows of Mortimer and Silkaitis,” Dale said. ìBut he has emerged as the new leader to this team as we lost a very strong senior class.”
Question marks surrounded the Gophers heading into the 2005-2006 season because they lost their two strongest swimmers. But Mitchell knew he could answer any and all questions by stepping up his game.
ìIt is obvious we had a great senior class last year and we were left with a void when they graduated,” Mitchell said. ìI knew what my role was going to be, and I think I have been stepping up and filling it the best I can.”
Thatís an understatement to Dale and the rest of Minnesota.
Last season Mitchell saw Mortimer receive the teamís Most Valuable Swimmer award, while he was acclaimed the teamís most improved swimmer.
This year Mitchell undoubtedly has been the teamís most valuable swimmer, posting five NCAA-qualifying times.
In addition to his guaranteed ticket to Atlanta for the NCAA Championships at the end of March, Mitchell is ranked first in the Big Ten in both the 200- and 400-yard individual medleys.
He also is ranked in the top 10 of seven other events in the Big Ten.
But Mitchellís contribution to Minnesota goes far beyond the numbers.
ìAdam is one of those guys that leads in the pool,” Dale said. ìYouíre not going to see the kind of ërah rahí stuff from him. But the rest of this team watches what he does, and they try to keep pace.”
Mortimer held the same role on last yearís Minnesota squad and said that he had the luxury of having Mitchellís help.
ìI would say that he was just as much a team leader last year,” Mortimer said. ìHaving someone like him helps because just having people faster than you on a team helps inspire you to get to that level, too.”
But Mitchell didnít experience instant success.
In fact, Minnesota was the only Division I school to offer Mitchell a scholarship. And he showed up hoping to contribute to the team, only to end up struggling to make the traveling squad.
But it didnít take long for Mitchell to take over a leadership role for the Gophers, and as he reaches the end of his career, it forces reflection over the past four years at Minnesota.
ìItís the team atmosphere, the growth rate, team-driven practices, great facilities and of course, great coaching,” he said. ìThose are all the elements that have made my career here so good.”