Host Minnesota flounders to 11th at NCAA meet

The Gophers had been aiming for a top-five finish but didn’t come close.

by Matt Anderson

The talk from Minnesota’s men’s swimming and diving team heading into the NCAA Championships was all about having the perfect setup for its first top-five finish in more than 40 years.

But after one day of competition, that dream became a long shot. After two days, it was a near impossibility. And at the end of the meet, Minnesota found itself outside the top 10 for the first time since 1999.

Minnesota placed 11th in the weekend’s national meet at the University Aquatic Center with 175 points, two points behind Georgia for 10th and more than 100 points back of fifth-place Florida. The Gophers had 12 of 13 swimmers earn All-America status.

Auburn won its third-straight national title, scoring 491 points, which was 77 ahead of second-place Stanford.

Gophers coach Dennis Dale said his team’s 11th-place finish was both disappointing and confounding.

“We weren’t quite as sharp as we needed to be,” Dale said. “Why we weren’t as sharp, whether we didn’t taper at the right time, whether we stopped a day too early or went a day too long, we’re not sure.”

The Gophers finished day one Thursday in seventh and slipped to ninth after Friday’s competition was complete.

After two disappointing days, Saturday’s preliminary session served to further damage the Minnesota’s top-10 aspirations, as Minnesota qualified just one swimmer into the individual championship finals.

In the 100-yard freestyle, the Gophers failed to qualify expected All-Americans Terry Silkaitis and Mario Delac into either the championship or consolation finals.

“Because this was our main meet, we were really trying to do better than Big Tens,” said sophomore Ales Volcansek, who finished 45th in the 100 free preliminaries. “And the form went down for NCAAs. As you can see from the whole team, most of the people swam a little bit slower.”

Amid Minnesota’s individual frustration, senior co-captain Justin Mortimer shone through as the Gophers’ main bright spot of the weekend.

Mortimer earned All-America status in all three of his individual events. He placed third in the 500 free, fourth in the 400 individual medley and eighth in the 1,650 free, his final collegiate event.

“It wasn’t my best race of the meet, but I gave everything I had,” Mortimer said. “And sometimes, it’s not what you hoped for.”

Mortimer ran his All-America total to four by swimming on the Gophers’ sixth-place 800 free relay team.

The Gophers finished in the top 16 in each of the meet’s five relays. But in the end, that collaborative success wasn’t enough to overcome the underperformance in individual events.

But Osten seemed optimistic.

“A lot of the younger guys got some really good experience here,” Osten said. “That’s going to set them up real well for next year.”