U seniors to get last shot at Michigan

by David La

When the men’s Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championships concludes this weekend, a hotly-contested chapter of the Minnesota versus Michigan rivalry will conclude as well.
Leading the title defense for Minnesota is a group of seniors who helped win Big Ten team titles in 1996 and 1998.
In 1996 the Gophers beat the Wolverines at the Big Tens, giving Minnesota its first title in 70 years. Michigan had won 10 straight Big Ten championships before that meet.
Wolverines coaches and athletes pointed out that several of their key swimmers had not tapered for the meet and treated the loss like Roger Maris’ 1961 season when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record but took more games to do it. Though it was impressive, it could not stand without an asterisk.
In 1998, Minnesota again was victorious at the Big Tens, sending a message to Michigan that it belongs in the same class as the Wolverines.
Now the Gophers freshmen who shoved their way to the front of the Big Ten line are accomplished seniors looking to take home their third Big Ten title in four years. They will not be asked to do it alone, however.
“We certainly expect all the freshmen and other first-timers to be involved in scoring,” Dale said of his team. “If we want to be up at the top of the scoreboard at the end of the competition, we’re going to need them to participate.”
Last season, Minnesota capitalized on points that came from an average of three swimmers per event, including the team’s only win of the championships in the 50-yard freestyle. Dale says the team can get by without the individual flourishes, but not without the depth.
“We have people who can win events,” Dale said. “But you don’t have to win events to win the Big Ten championships.”
While Minnesota and Michigan continue to set the pace in the conference, newcomers like Penn State are still a threat to negate the Gophers’ depth in the sprint events. While the Gophers point supply is being tapped, Michigan still has no real competition in the distance events.
“Michigan, with their overwhelming depth in the distance events, is the favorite,” Dale said. “Last year we dominated the sprint events, but this year the (sprint events) points that are available are going to be divided up amongst more teams.”
Getting off to a fast start on the first day will be important to Dale and the Gophers, who would like to enter the third day as far ahead as possible. Michigan’s poor finish at last year’s meet is something Dale is not counting on again.
“We think that our second day will be our best day, and our first day will be our next-best day,” Dale said.
Dale said that it will be important for the team to compete well on all three days, and he’s taking nothing for granted.
“Our guys think it’s realistic (to repeat), and I’m not one to let unreasonable goals exist unchallenged,” Dale said of the chance at winning Big Tens.
“Michigan is not the odds-on favorite to win like they were in 1996 or 1997, but they traditionally have a great Big Ten meet.”