Gophers prepare for Big Ten meet

Minnesota has an opportunity to win its first conference title since 2007.

by David Nelson

Gophers senior Derek Toomey knows what’s in store for his team this weekend at the Big Ten championships, and he knows Michigan could pose one of the biggest threats.

“They’re going to be tough,” Toomey said.

The Wolverines took home their third team title in as many seasons last year at the conference meet.

In fact, since Minnesota’s last Big Ten title in 2007, Michigan has claimed five of its own.

“It’s hard to win a Big Ten title on the men’s side,” head coach Kelly Kremer said. “You’re competing against teams like Michigan, who is not only the top team in our conference but in the entire country. [So] those event wins become precious.”

Still, it’s not just the Wolverines who have perplexed the Gophers lately.

Indiana and Ohio State have rounded out the top three at the Big Ten meet in the last three seasons.

“They’ve been kind of up in the top three for a bit … and even though we were fourth last year, there are teams behind us … that could easily leapfrog us if we’re not swimming and diving the way we need to,” Kremer said.

Though the team understands the uphill battle it faces this weekend, junior CJ Smith said his team doesn’t dwell on the Big Ten championship results.

“I don’t think we really sit on Big Ten [championships] as much as some other teams might,” Smith said. “I think the focus for us is more so on NCAA [championships] and qualifying guys for that meet.”

After a fourth-place finish at last year’s meet, members of the team said they think this season will be better.

The freshmen on the team are a big reason for that.

“We have a lot of freshmen stepping up this year,” Smith said. “It’s nice to know we have a couple of young guys on those relays looking to the future, but … they can compete with other teams’ studs.”

Gophers freshman Daryl Turner has certainly stood out this season, and he owns the team’s best or second-best time in four different events.

“He’s been absolutely helpful in any of the backstroke races, the backstroke splits in the medley relays and the sprint freestyles,” Toomey said. “I think he’s going to do really well in those races.”

A first-place finish in relays earns 40 points, so having confidence going into those races is important.

“I think our relays are going to be a lot better this year than they were last year,” senior Kyler Van Swol said. “We have the fastest guys [we’ve had] going since our freshman year.”

Van Swol said his goal this season is to win two events, and he’ll need to have his best times in order to do so.

While Kremer said the focus for the team is to get its best times, he said it would be nice to finish as one of the three best teams in the Big Ten.

“If we have every athlete on our team get best times in their events, that stuff will come out in the wash,” Kremer said.

Smith said that he obviously wants the team to perform well at the conference meet but that the NCAA meet is still the end goal.

“We just worry about what we have to do to get into the top 16,” Smith said. “At the end of the day … who we qualify for NCAA [championships] is most important.”