Gophers look to take home top 10 at NCAAs

Minnesota missed finishing in the top 10 last year for the first time since 1999.

Matt Perkins

Minnesota’s men’s swimming and diving team will have at least one competitor in 20 of the 21 events at this year’s NCAA Championships, which start today in Atlanta.

The Gophers send 12 individuals to the meet, and only Auburn with 18, Stanford and California with 15 and Texas with 14 will have more competitors in the field.

But the ninth-ranked Gophers’ championship hopes will be tied heavily to the performances of their relay teams and senior Adam Mitchell.

“Our goals this weekend are just to perform well in the relays and get some production from individuals,” junior Dan Berve said. “But we’re looking to score, hopefully, most of our points in the relays.”

The Gophers qualified all five of their relay teams, which have anchored the Gophers’ success this season.

Minnesota took second place in the 400-yard medley relay at the Ohio State Invitational in December, but it was the team’s only non-first place finish in a relay event during the regular season.

Last year, Minnesota’s five relay teams each received All-American honors.

And that’s a feat the Gophers expect to repeat.

“We’re going this year with as good a team and as big of a team as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Berve said. “If we can finish top eight in each of our relays, we can put ourselves in a great position.”

Minnesota’s best chance for an NCAA title is in the 400 freestyle relay, as the team of Igor Cerensek, Adam Mitchell, Mario Delac and Tyler Schmidt already took home a Big Ten title in the event.

But the Gophers are anything but limited to their relay teams.

Schmidt, a sophomore, qualified for three individual events: the 50, 100 and 200 freestyles. He said he hopes to be able to contribute to the continuation of the Gophers’ streak of 14-consecutive top-15 finishes at NCAAs.

“A national championship is not really feasible for us with all the other teams in the meet,” Schmidt said. “But we would like to get top 10 again because we just barely got knocked out of it last year.”

Mitchell looks like he will be the Gophers swimmer with the most realistic shot at an individual national title. He was put in the position of team leader going into the season and he has lived up to all individual expectations.

Mitchell qualified for three individual events and is ranked nationally in each of them. He is ranked third in the 200 medley, fourth in the 400 medley and 10th in the 200 backstroke.

“He has been nothing but spectacular for us all season,” coach Dennis Dale said. “You know that he is going to be in the running for the finals and a top-four finish.”

Mitchell is unbeaten in the 200 medley this season in nine meets, including earning a Big Ten title in the event last month.

And the Gophers might need that unbeaten streak to continue for a chance at a top-ten finish.

“We just don’t have the star power we had a year ago,” Dale said. “But last year we didn’t have a good meet and ended up 11th; this year we need a good meet to finish near the top 10.”