Gophers aiming to improve finish at Big Ten sans Richards

Last year’s fourth place finish was the worst since 1989.

Megan Ryan

 

The Minnesota men’s swimming and diving team will begin competition Wednesday at the Big Ten championships.

The four-day meet in Iowa City, Iowa, will pit the young No. 16 Gophers against dominant teams like No. 4 Michigan, No. 9 Ohio State, No. 11 Indiana and No. 14 Iowa.

“I think those rankings, when it comes to this time of year, are somewhat meaningless,” head men’s and women’s coach Kelly Kremer said. “The Big Ten now is such a strong conference that you can have a truly great meet and finish sixth or seventh.”

The team finished fourth last year with 505.5 points, a sizeable distance from first-place Michigan’s 678 points. The Wolverines have won the meet three of the last four years.

“Michigan right now is really one of the top swimming and diving programs in the country,” Kremer said. “They have earned the billing of being the top Big Ten team this year. If anybody is going to knock them off, it is going to take an outstanding effort.”

The one swimmer who won all three of Minnesota’s titles last year, Mike Richards, graduated.

Richards won the 50-yard freestyle and the 100 freestyle. He also led the Big Ten record-setting 200 freestyle relay and was named Big Ten Swimmer of the Championships.

Richards may be gone, but there are two swimmers who will look to cover his absence. Zach Bolin and Derek Toomey are the only returning members of the championship 200-yard freestyle relay. The duo also competes in the individual freestyle sprints.

“It definitely hurt when we lost [Richards], but I think as the year’s gone on, people like Derek Toomey, Hrvoje [Capan] and Ben [Griggs], they’ve all stepped up a lot this year,” Bolin said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we all, as a whole, outscored what Richards was able to do last year.”

Bolin, a senior, finished fifth in the 50 freestyle and third in the 100 freestyle last year. Toomey placed ninth and 11th in those races, respectively.

Toomey said he hoped to push his teammates who are in the same spot as he was last year.

“I almost didn’t make the Big Tens team, and then I did really well,” the sophomore said. “I give a lot of that credit to the seniors and juniors who pushed me to make me do well. I want those freshmen who haven’t experienced this before to do really, really well.”

The divers will look to senior Kristoffer Jorgensen to lead the team. Jorgensen was the highest finisher for Minnesota last year with a second-place finish on platform.

“I think that for this Big Ten [championships], I have a chance of winning both 3-meter and platform,” Jorgensen said. “It’s nice going in having two really strong events.”

The 2011 Big Ten Diver of the Year, Purdue’s David Boudia, graduated last year. He swept all three diving events. Without him, Jorgensen said he feels even better about his chances.

“He is really ready for this meet,” head diving coach Wenbo Chen said. “I think he will do well because of the experience he has and the training he has.”

The men will aim to build on the success of the women’s team. The women upset three-year reigning champions Indiana to win the Big Ten championships last week.