Shorthanded U women swim to 24th at NCAAs

by David La

The eight swimmers representing the Gophers women’s swimming team succumbed to a lack of participants and individual scoring performances at the NCAA championships held March 18-20 in Athens, Ga.
Minnesota — fresh off its first-ever Big Ten title — finished in a tie for 24th, behind four other Big Ten teams. The host Bulldogs won their first-ever national title with 504.5 points, followed by Stanford (441) and Southern Methodist (370.5).
The low finish at the NCAAs was a disappointment for the Gophers, but the team took solace in accomplishing its pre-meet relay goals. Minnesota made school history by scoring in all five of its relays, one of only nine teams to do so at the meet.
“We just weren’t consistent across the board, and we didn’t swim anywhere as tough (as Big Tens),” coach Jean Freeman said. “We were still good enough to get all our relays in, and that’s impressive.”
Competing away from home obviously hindered the Gophers. The team was unable to use the energy of the meet to its advantage the way it did in the Big Ten championships at the Aquatic Center.
“It was close to impossible,” Freeman said. “It’s fun winning, and watching others win was not the same.”
The Gophers also went into the NCAAs fully aware that their vaunted team depth would not be a factor.
“I knew that depth was our strength, and I’ve said many times that it gets peeled away immediately at NCAAs,” Freeman said.
Compounding the Gophers’ woes was the absence of diver T. D. Rowe. The senior co-captain failed to defend her Big Ten titles in the 1- and 3-meter board and did not qualify for NCAA competition.
Junior Terri Jashinsky broke into the scoring field in the 100-yard butterfly, finishing 13th and contributing the Gophers’ lone individual scoring performance.
“I had never placed (at NCAAs) before, so that was exciting,” Jashinsky said. “I was just happy to be swimming in the finals.”
Jashinsky also received honorable mention All-American status in three relays, giving her a team-high four overall.
Due to the success of the relay teams, each Gophers swimmer at the championships earned honorable mention All-American awards, while getting the experience of competing in their individual events.
“They are really fast and it’s exciting that I’m that good also and get to compete with the best of them,” sophomore Meghan Sonstegard said of the field.
The competition also provided a wealth of experience for a relatively young Minnesota team. Senior Beth Shimanski will be the only current All-American not returning to the Gophers next season, giving the defending Big Ten champions the tools for an even stronger finish in next year’s post-season.