Second place finish seen as big victory

Matt Perkins

For Minnesotaís womenís swimming and diving team, Saturdayís 100-yard freestyle finals at the Big Ten Championships were extremely encouraging.

The Gophers didnít have the greatest showing in the event, finishing freshmen Stacy Busack and Meredith McCarthy in sixth and eighth place, respectively.

But first place Penn State did not qualify anyone for the 100 free championship finals, and after the event the scoreboard read Nittany Lions 470, Gophers 464.5.

Within five and a half points of the lead was a Minnesota team that went into the Big Ten Championships hoping for a top-four finish, fifth or sixth realistically.

The 24th-ranked Gophers fell just short of topping Big Ten Champion Penn State, but finished the season as the second-best team in the conference.

ìGoing into the weekend I thought it would take mistakes from the teams in front of us for us to move up at all,” said co-head coach Kelly Kremer. ìBut, in fact, nobody made mistakes; we were just that good.”

Their streak of brilliance started on day one, when the Gophers finished fourth in the 200 medley relay and took home a win in the 800 free relay.

ìI think that was the highlight of my career was that 800 free relay event,” senior Kate Hardt said. ìI canít even express how excited I was, how excited I am, about it.”

And after day two, with seven of 21 events in the book, Minnesota found itself in first place.

When 14th-ranked Penn State passed Minnesota for first place, as did 22nd-ranked Michigan, the Gophers tried making up ground on the diving board.

Minnesota was able to put together 10 points on the one-meter board, with an 11th-place finish from freshman Brianna Hubbard and a 13th-place finish from freshman Erica Schiffler.

In fact, the Gophers gathered 57 total points in diving events at the meet, where as Penn State totaled just five points and Michigan 26.

ìWe definitely turned a lot of heads over the weekend,” junior diver Holly Jakits said. ìI think we kind of put Minnesota on the map again and everyone knows weíre going to stick around.”

The Gophersí weakness proved to be the 200 breaststroke and the 200 butterfly.

Trailing Penn State by just five and a half points, the Gophers failed to qualify anyone in the championship finals of the 200 breast and 200 fly.

Instead, they had to watch as Penn State pulled out of reach.

ìWe knew going in to the breast and the fly that it was one of the areas we werenít as strong as Penn State,” Hardt said.

But a second-place finish exceeded initial expectations for the Gophers.

ìOur chemistry as a team was probably the biggest factor,” Hardt said. ìWe wanted everyone else to swim as well as we wanted ourselves to swim.”

And as individuals, they again exceeded expectations.

Hardt, who was a part of the Gophers 800 free relay team that qualified for NCAAs, was one of several Minnesota athletes to qualify for the NCAA Championships.

In the preliminaries of the 200 back, Katie Wind topped her previous school record of 1:59.58, finishing with an automatic NCAA qualifying time of 1:58.24.

In the finals of the event it was Windís old record time of 1:59.58 that finished her in second place.

Freshmen Yuen Kobayashi and Christine Jennings were the only Gophers to hold NCAA automatic qualifying times going into the meet, and they only solidified those times with first and third place finishes in the 1650 free, respectively.

Kobayashiís first place time of 16:12.95 shattered Minnesotaís previous school record in the event.

ìYou know those girls went in to Big Tens unshaven and were able to put together incredible performances,” Kremer said. ìBut they are going to shave for NCAAs and probably do even better.”

And when itís all said and done, Kremer said Minnesota can look past the scores and times and take something much more important home.

ìIn terms of team confidence we come out of this meet with a new look on life,” Kremer said. ìIím just so proud of this team right now and we have so much more to look forward to at NCAAs.”