Minnesota seals up Big Ten title in Columbus

The Gophers were down after the first day of competition but were able to edge Michigan for the conference crown.

by Nick Gerhardt

With the Academy Awards yesterday, the women’s swimming and diving team sounded a little like Sally Field’s memorable acceptance speech when talking about the Ohio State pool.

“We really like that pool,” senior Roxane Akradi said.

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diving NCAA Championships
what: Women’s swimming
when: Friday, March 14
where: Columbus, Ohio

Swimming NCAA Championships
what: Women’s swimming
when: Saturday, March 22
where: Columbus, Ohio

They really, really do as they broke 14 school records en route to winning their third Big Ten title in school history and first since 2000.

The Gophers traveled to the Buckeyes’ pool back in December and smashed seven school records then. This time they doubled that total and edged out Michigan 660.5 to 609 for the conference crown.

For Akradi, the ending had a movie feel as Queen’s “We Are the Champions” played over the loudspeakers.

Although the celebration felt like a classic movie ending, no screenwriter could have imagined the way in which Minnesota climbed to the title.

After the first day of competition the Gophers trailed Michigan by four and a half points but rallied on the second day to grab a 13 point lead.

Exhausted from the two previous days, Minnesota expended all the remaining energy they had left Saturday to gain the points they needed to win.

“The turning point was Saturday morning,” co-head coach Terry Nieszner said. “They were re-energized and ready to go. That’s unique to have a team ready to go on Saturday morning.”

The Gophers sent nine swimmers to the championship finals on Saturday and secured a big enough lead after the 10 meter platform dive to relax and enjoy their imminent victory during the 400 freestyle relay.

“The kids did exactly what they needed to do to get themselves in scoring position,” Nieszner said.

Each day Minnesota set at least four school records and actually had two swimmers best each other in the same event on the same day.

On the final day Akradi had set the school record in the 200 backstroke preliminaries to make the finals. Sophomore Castina Wabeke made the consolation finals and broke the record Akradi had just set earlier in the day.

“Everyone was looking at Minnesota saying ‘They’re swimming out of their minds,’ ” Akradi said.

Co-head coach Kelly Kremer thought that this year’s championship meet was perhaps the fastest in history as other schools broke multiple records as well.

Northwestern set 10 new school records over the course of the meet as well.

“It was a completely different level of swimming,” Akradi said. “I’ve never seen such deep competition in the Big Ten before.”

After finishing second in 2005, Akradi particularly enjoyed being the center of attention for a change.

“It’s a dream come true,” she said.

The script for the Gophers is far from complete as many of the athletes will return to Columbus for the NCAA championships in March.