Swimmers make sacrifices

David La

Seven members of the No. 11 Gophers women’s swimming team heading to the NCAA championships March 18-20 in Athens, Ga., got a firsthand look at what it takes to contend at the national level at the expense of one.
Junior Jenny Hennen, a three-time NCAA veteran, got an abrupt reminder of the work necessary to ensure a quality performance — no excuses allowed.
Stricken by a cold that held her out of practice for four days, she was not welcomed back with open arms, but rather with a figurative kick in the backside.
“When I came back (the coaches) were pretty hard on me,” Hennen said. “They just went after me because I didn’t have much time left. I needed to start training.”
While Hennen automatically qualified for NCAAs in the 200-meter butterfly event, she will also be a part of four out of five team relays, and scoring in each relay is something coach Jean Freeman underlined as a primary team goal.
“I would like to believe all five relays could score,” Freeman said. “We’ve never done that in our history, but I think this year we could.”
A feather in Minnesota’s relay cap will be the continuity of the team’s competing athletes.
“In the past we haven’t gotten all the individuals that swam all the relays at Big Tens,” said Beth Shimanski, a senior co-captain. “This year, we’ll have the exact same relays swimming at NCAAs that swam at Big Tens.”
Unlike in the Big Ten’s championships, the Gophers must qualify their relay teams during the afternoon preliminaries in order to earn a berth in the finals.
“Preliminaries are going to be the most important,” sophomore Katy Christoferson said. “I think if we swim well in preliminaries, finals will take care of themselves.”
It would seem that the additional physical burdens would be eased by a large crowd and the comforts of home, much like the hosting of Big Tens. Not so, says junior Kate McMillan, who hopes to tap in to the ballyhoo of NCAAs.
“With Georgia, they’re going to be in a real big title fight with Stanford, Southern Methodist University and some of the other real top schools,” McMillan said. “Just to be able to feed off that energy but not have to provide it ourselves will be really huge.”
In contrast to the group that finished No. 16 at NCAAs last year, this year’s squad is young and lacks individual scoring punch. As a result, the goals of improvement appear modest, but the great team depth shown at Big Tens does not factor at NCAAs.
“The plus to this year’s team was its Big Ten (championship) qualities,” Freeman said. “(NCAAs) is a different meet, a different situation. So for us to move up to top 15, that’s a huge improvement.”