Men’s swimming heads to nationals gunning for top-10

by David La Vaque

Dennis Dale knows no formula exists for how to properly train his athletes for high profile events, but Minnesota’s men’s swimming coach is drawing hope from numbers.

The Gophers compete at the NCAA championships Thursday through Saturday in Athens, Ga. Minnesota is sending 14 swimmers, behind only Auburn (17), Stanford and Texas (16 each).

The sixth-ranked Gophers return seven All-Americans, three swimmers ranked among the top three nationally, and boast five relays ranked among the nation’s top 10. Minnesota’s 200-yard medley relay owns the nation’s top time.

After a ninth place finish last season, Dale expects his squad to swim somewhere between fifth and eighth. Anything less will be a disappointment.

“They take it for granted that they belong there,” Dale said. They go with a purpose: to be better than they were a year ago.”

Improving on last year’s placing will weigh heavily on the Gophers’ trio of top eight finishers from a season ago.

Jeff Hackler (breaststroke), Justin Mortimer (distance freestyle) and Todd Smolinski (backstroke) must earn points in the championship finals, while the team must utilize its outstanding depth.

Dale expects each of the swimmers – 12 of which qualified in their individual events – to place within the top 16 of their events.

Minnesota comes into the meet on a roll, posting an 8-0 dual meet record and winning its second-straight Big Ten Championship going away. The Gophers’ 711.5 points were challenged only by Michigan’s 636.5.

Minnesota’s best NCAA finish of sixth occurred in 1991-92. If the Gophers finish this weekend in the top 10, they will post three-straight such national finishes for the first time in school history.

David La Vaque welcomes comments at [email protected]