Swimming faces NCAA-like meet

Brian Stensaas

It’s fitting that the last meet of the 20th century for the Minnesota swimming and diving teams comes against some of its toughest competition.
The Gophers, ranked No. 10 and No. 15 respectively for men and women, compete in the Texas Invitational today through Sunday. It marks the second time the women will take to the road for competition this season while this is the first road test for the men.
“The field this weekend is the toughest I have seen in my 15 years here,” men’s coach Dennis Dale said.
On the men’s side, the obvious high hurdle to clear — along with the four other teams ranked in the top 20 — will be the host Longhorns, ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Taking control in the freestyle events this weekend should be fourth-ranked Arizona’s Ryk Neething, the defending NCAA champion in the 200-, 500- and 1650-yard. Fifth-ranked California’s Bart Kizierowski, the defending 100 freestyle NCAA champion, will also be in Austin.
Along with the first big test for the team as a whole, it is the first real test for the Gophers’ freshmen against top-quality teams.
“It’s exciting,” freshman Matt Taylor said. “I’m looking forward to the tough competition and hopefully placing well.”
The tough competition doesn’t end with the men’s side. The women face seven teams in the top 20. Lurking in the shadows among the competition will be eighth-ranked Michigan and No. 13 Wisconsin, both Big Ten foes. Second-ranked Arizona, complete with all four members of its 1999 NCAA champion 400 freestyle relay team, will also be a tough matchup for the Gophers.
“We have always enjoyed relays, and having tough competition (in Texas) will be extra motivation for us,” women’s coach Jean Freeman said. “It will be a good way to see how we measure up.”
So far this season, the sweet taste of success has been spoon-fed to the Gophers. With the exception of the women dropping a 188-182 decision to North Carolina, both teams have won convincingly thus far.
“This should be a very good test for us,” Dale said. “We are definitely underdogs going into this meet. I’m hoping to go down there and turn in some fast times.”
With so many top-20 teams participating in the Texas Invite, Minnesota will have a mini-preview of the NCAA championships in March. And the exposure will help the Gophers who are hoping for postseason berths.
“We’re not so much looking to see what we can do team-point wise, but how fast we can swim against the fastest,” Freeman said. “This is the first time that we have rested before the holidays and we’d love to see some lifetime bests out there.”
The competition isn’t the only thing that will prepare Minnesota for the NCAA meet. The format — two sessions each day and a different race setup — is exactly like that used at the NCAA meet.
“The pressure is definitely on for us here, more than we’ve seen in a while,” Dale said. “This will be a good indicator to see just where we are at.”

Brian Stensaas covers swimming and diving and welcomes comments at [email protected]