U to host Big Ten swim championships,

by David La

The T-shirts say it all for the No. 14 Minnesota women’s swimming and diving team.
The back of the exceptionally bright gold shirts — which the Gophers will wear at the Big Ten Championships Thursday through Saturday at the University Aquatic Center — reads “It’s Our Time.”
In addition to the prophetic apparel, coach Jean Freeman said she has an unusually strong feeling about this year’s squad, as Minnesota tries once again to knock off Michigan, king of the mountain for the last 12 years.
“This is the first time in my 26 years I’ve said we’ve got a chance at it,” Freeman said of the elusive Big Ten title.
With all the added hype and hubbub that comes with hosting a championship meet, the Gophers don’t seem to have their watches wound too tight.
“(Hosting the championships) makes us realize this isn’t just another dual meet,” junior Jenny Hennen said. “It makes it all more exciting.”
“They have to come to our house,” sophomore Emily Deppe said. “They’ll have to adjust, but we know what to expect.”
Indeed, the other teams in the conference will have to deal with performing away from the comforts of home. But teams like No. 9 Michigan and No. 12 Northwestern are tough anywhere, anytime.
Minnesota took a dual meet from Michigan earlier this season. But Freeman isn’t about to concede victory to her team based on that meet alone.
“They showed up in not good shape,” Freeman said of the Wolverines. “We killed them, but that doesn’t mean a thing right now. They will be ready.”
The centerpiece of Michigan’s team is Shannon Shakespeare. The junior has already automatically qualified for the NCAA championships in the 100 and 200 freestyle, 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley. She’s also been a part of four relay teams that have turned in NCAA qualifying times.
In an attempt to counter the Wolverines’ one woman show, as well as strong distance swimmers, the Gophers will rely on a deep roster that can score points all over the board.
On the diving boards, Minnesota has the defending Big Ten Diver of the Year, senior T.D. Rowe. Rowe’s trademark this season has been consistency, and she said she’s up to the task once again.
“If you’re not ready by now, I mean, this is it,” Rowe said. “But you’ve just got to smile and remember that it’s supposed to be fun.”
The men’s program has added two Big Ten championship banners to the west wall of the Aquatic Center in the last three years, and Freeman said she’s ready to do some redecorating of her own.
“This was the first co-ed athletic facility built on campus,” Freeman said. “We would like it to remain as co-ed as possible in its decorations.