Women’s swim team welcomes infusion of talent

Mark Heller

For most teams it would be a nightmare to start a season with almost one-half of its roster being newcomers.
But at least one team doesn’t think so.
Gopher women’s swimming coach Jean Freeman lost five of her best athletes to graduation or eligibility, and replaced them with 14 freshmen and four transfer students.
“The whole chemistry changes every year,” Freeman said. “But when you have 18 new ones, it changes a lot. We did a lot more get-to-know-you things in the beginning. You work a little harder the first few weeks to make sure the new people are brought up to speed and feel part of everything.”
With so many new members and only a few coaches, Freeman expects the older members of the team to provide some much-needed extra support.
“The captains (Beth Shimanski and diver T.D. Rowe) and veterans have all been wonderful,” freshman Angie Roehl said. “They have given us a positive influence, they keep us going and everyone supports each other. There’s a real team unity here.”
But Freeman is also counting on the upperclassmen to carry the load this year.
“The strength of this team are the sophomores and the juniors,” Freeman said. “Even though we have lots of new people, it takes a while for them to adjust, get in a routine and be physically ready. So the biggest number of points will be scored by our sophomores and juniors.”
These expectations could be a big help to many of the freshmen, who can concentrate more on the fundamentals early on.
“I knew it would be a different situation than high school,” Roehl said. “Not competing as much has let me take some pressure off myself, and I can work on strength and timing. I kind of knew this would happen coming in, so it was easy to accept.”
Even so, the newcomers might be leaned on at some point if this team wants to contend for the Big Ten title. Last year’s second place finish in the conference championship and 16th in the NCAAs is something the team would like to build on.
“We want to be consistent,” said Rachel Degener, a junior diver who transferred from Brigham Young. “Everyone seems to be on the same page with similar goals. The captains have been a great help getting to know everyone well. The coaches are always there if you want help or to do extra work. But we are in control of what happens.”
The team has high expectations for itself, but the captains want to make sure that all swimming and diving members don’t lose sight of the most important fundamental.
“The bottom line is that we have to keep the fun in it,” Shimanski said. “If we lose the fun, we lose everything.”