Men’s swimming unfazed by heavy personnel losses

Brian Stensaas

Although official practices don’t begin for another couple weeks, the Minnesota men’s swimming and diving team has been in the water since the start of the fall semester.

Captain’s practices have been commencing daily for this year’s team, a group on the heels of an overwhelming triumph at the Big Ten championships – their third in six years – and a top-10 finish at the NCAA meet. Even with last year’s success, improvement is the name of the game so far.

“We’d like to be in the thick of things again,” coach Dennis Dale said. “I think this year’s Big Ten meet will be closed in more, but we have a very good team and we are aware of that.”

The Gophers won the 2001 conference meet by an unprecedented 248 points – the most by a team since the Big Ten switched scoring formats in 1991. Minnesota’s 797 total points were the most scored since Indiana racked up 851 in 1974.

But last year’s meet was also in the friendly confines of the University Aquatic Center. More importantly, the Gophers are now without Alex Massura, Keam Ang, Ricardo Dornelas and Dan Croaston – all 2001 Big Ten champions.

“We definitely know what we’ve lost,” Dale said. “We graduated 300 of our points and then there’s Michigan who only lost 50 points. But we still think we can repeat the Big Ten championship and improve upon our NCAA finish.”

The Wolverines came in second to Minnesota last season.

The Gophers welcome back a strong core of swimmers led by a pair fresh off summer success.

Both Jeff Hackler and Todd Smolinski competed internationally and came home as medalists. Hackler earned a team bronze with the United States at the Goodwill Games while Smolinski earned a silver and a bronze medal at the World University Games in the backstroke.

Dov Malnik, who served as a captain on last year’s squad, said in swimming there is no offseason.

“Some guys take one or two weeks off after NCAAs, but some just keep going,” he said. “I keep going. And I think a lot of the guys on our team are like that. In swimming, you just can’t stop like that.”

Along with the upperclassmen, Minnesota brings a new core of recruits to the pool this season. Among them include Mike Hagen, 2001 Minnesota state champion in the 50-yard freestyle, sprint freestyle specialist Scott Young and Bjoern Lundin who holds a pair of Swedish junior national records in the butterfly.

“It’s going to take some time for me to get used to everything,” said Lundin, who arrived in America on Aug. 24. “But I have prepared well for this group. I know this team has a lot of potential and can do well.”

Dale is expecting every single member of his team to contribute.

“We have a lot of new faces, but we are depending on them,” he said. “We need all of our classes this season and I think we’ll get that.”