Trio of talented swimmers represent Gophers at nationals

Sam Campanaro

Dana Baum, Keri Hehn and Juleen Rodakowski are eating better, sleeping more and staying off their legs in preparation for the biggest swim meet of the season.

The trio heads to Auburn University in Alabama for the NCAA women’s swimming and diving meet April 20-22.

Rodakowski is debuting on the national stage, Baum is making her second appearance and Hehn, the veteran, her third.

After just missing qualifying last year due to a sprained ankle, Rodakowski will be competing in three events this year.

She automatically qualified in the 200-yard butterfly, which guarantees her a spot in the events she provisionally qualified for: the 100-yard butterfly and the 200-yard individual medley.

Rodakowski is facing the nerves and anticipation that come with an athlete’s first appearance at the NCAA meet. She said at this point, it’s hard for her to judge how things will turn out.

“I realize that it isn’t any different than any other meet,” Rodakowski said. “I’m still going to warm up and get on the blocks and race like I always do.”

Baum’s motivation is tied to improving on last year’s marks, even though the race lengths have changed.

A 15th-place finish in the 500-yard freestyle earned Baum All- America honorable mention honors. She also placed 19th in the 200-yard freestyle last year.

This year Baum will be focusing on slightly different events. She qualified provisionally in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events. She automatically qualified in the 50-yard freestyle.

After watching an Iowa senior perform better than expected at last year’s NCAA meet, Baum congratulated her. The swimmer told Baum that she would swim the same way, too, if it were the last meet of her life.

“I’m going into this thinking about what she said,” Baum said. “I’m ready to swim fast.”

Hehn will be making her second meet appearance as a Gopher, third overall. In Hehn’s first NCAA meet she competed for Nebraska.

She has competed in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke at her two previous NCAA meets. Last year, Hehn finished eighth in the 200-yard breaststroke, earning her All-America honors. She also placed 17th in the 100-yard breaststroke.

Hehn is feeding off the excitement she has experienced at the past meets. She is also focusing on her individual times because she won’t be competing in relays.

“It’s nice because you just get to concentrate all of your energy on your two races,” Hehn said.

The Gophers accomplished their goal prior to the Big Ten meet of getting more NCAA qualifiers with Rodakowski.

Baum and Hehn’s success at previous NCAA meets and Rodakowski’s solid season are the measure for the meet. Now coach Jean Freeman is expecting the qualifiers to perform their best.

“They are looking at lifetime bests,” Freeman said. “If you’re top eight you’re an All-American and if you’re top 16 you’re honorable mention All-American. That really sets you apart from other swimmers.”

Diving zones

Divers begin competition today at the Diving Zones at Miami of Ohio. The results of the competition will determine which 35 divers will be competing at the NCAA meet. Minnesota’s Rebecca Cornthwaite is expected to qualify again this year.

Sam Campanaro welcomes comments at [email protected]