Swimmers finish second at Big Tens

Brian Stensaas

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It was a weekend where host Michigan had everything going for it at the Big Ten swimming and diving championships.
Despite a late run by Minnesota, no one could ever catch the Wolverines. Michigan’s depth-packed roster of swimmers took it to the rest of the Big Ten en route to its 31st conference championship at a packed Canham Natatorium.
“If we would have swam the first three sessions like we did the last three, we would have had a meet on our hands,” Gophers coach Dennis Dale said.
Michigan finished with 682 points. The Gophers finished with 601 followed by 1999 champion Penn State, which had possession of second place for most of the meet, with 514.
Going into the final day of competition on Saturday, it looked as though the Lions (down only 59 points) or the Gophers (67) might have a chance at the title. Then came the 1,650-yard freestyle.
Michigan’s already noticeable depth made its presence felt in the event, taking six of the top nine places and 86 points. And the Wolverines coasted from that point on all the way to Queen’s “We are the Champions,” which played at the conclusion of the meet.
“We were pretty lucky in the (1,650 freestyle) tonight,” Michigan coach Jon Urbanchek said. “It gave us momentum. Each day has been like that, we’ve carried on that momentum.”
Urbanchek nabbed the Big Ten coach of the year honor for his team’s victory.
The 1,650 was not the only event in which maize and blue dominated. Michigan totalled 35 top-10 finishes in 15 individual swimming events.
Despite Michigan having the meet in tow, Minnesota did not roll over and play dead.
Alex Massura, already having his second straight 100 backstroke championship, dominated that stroke Sunday. Massura won the 200 backstroke by well over a second. Minnesota freshman Todd Smolinski finished third in the 200.
Dan Croaston had to wait a day to seek his second consecutive 3-meter diving crown. A concern at the pool Friday was that the water level in the diving well was too shallow for diving and the event was postponed until Saturday. In the end, it didn’t matter which day they dove.
Coming into the finals in second place behind Indiana’s Tom Davidson, who won the 1-meter, Croaston was on a mission to defend his title.
And defend he did.
The junior lit up the scoreboard with scores reaching 9 and 9.5 in the fourth and fifth rounds. Croaston finished with a score of 631.40, his best-ever on the 3-meter and one point shy of PJ Bogart’s school record.
The Gophers won four of five relays for the second year in a row, but through two legs of the 800 freestyle relay it didn’t look too promising. Down to Michigan after 400 yards, Brandon Crook stepped to the blocks and took control, swiping the lead. Massura anchored and sealed the win.
“I don’t think it was just me, it was all the guys,” Crook said. “But when I pulled ahead and we had Alex anchoring, we knew that we had it won.”
One of the four championship relays won was the 400 freestyle relay — the fifth consecutive year a Minnesota team has won the event.
There’s strong hope for the future, thanks in part to the performance of Minnesota’s Jeff Hackler. Hackler won the Big Ten freshman of the year award for his overall performance, but mostly for the 200 breaststroke. He swam a 1:57.79 time, a new pool record and a Big Ten championship for the freshman.
Though no championship banner will be hung in the Aquatic Center this season noting the Gophers’ efforts, Dale knows his team did as well as could be expected.
“I couldn’t be happier the way this team got back in this today,” he said. “I think that we have a very young team and some of them were just a little tense to start off. We finished great and I am proud of this team.”

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