Swim teams enjoy strong showings against Big Ten foes

by Brett Angel

Underestimated and overlooked, Minnesota’s unranked women’s swimming and diving team entered its Quad Duals meet at the University Aquatic Center over the weekend with something to prove.

Despite a perfect 6-0 record in duals meets this season, the Gophers have yet to crack the top 25 in the polls, something head coach Jean Freeman attributes to the team’s poor performance at the end of last year.

But after finishing ninth at the Big Ten championships a year ago, Freeman’s team exacted some revenge on its conference opponents Saturday.

Minnesota defeated Big Ten foes Illinois (212-133) and No. 17 Purdue (211-142), while narrowly falling to eighth-ranked Wisconsin (188-164).

“I’m thrilled,” Freeman said of the Gophers’ performance. “We’ve been underrated this year but it’s nice to prove it. We’ve all felt like we’re doing better, but when you go against the Big Ten it’s so much more meaningful.”

Minnesota had first-place finishes from Dana Baum in the 200 freestyle, Keri Hehn in the 100 breaststroke and Juleen Rodakowski in the 100 and 200 butterfly.

But the biggest surprise of the weekend came from the Minnesota divers. Led by senior Holly Hanneman with a score of 242, the Gophers swept the top five spots in the one-meter competition. Junior Rebecca Cornthwaite won the three-meter competition.

“I was surprised, but at the same time everyone’s been working really hard this season and we’re just showing how good we are as a team,” Cornthwaite said.

The Gophers will be home again this weekend to host the Minnesota Challenge before traveling to Purdue for the Big Ten championships Feb. 19-22.

Men’s team cruises

Minnesota’s men’s swimming and diving team blew its competition out of the water at the Aquatic Center, thumping Big Ten opponents Purdue and Wisconsin in its Triple Duals meet over the weekend.

The seventh-ranked Gophers won the first six events and seven out of ten Friday evening and entered Saturday with a commanding lead over its competition.

Minnesota then cruised to victory by comfortable margins over both the No. 15 Boilermakers (240-113) and tenth-ranked Badgers (237-110).

“It was definitely expected,” said sophomore Terrence Silkaitis, who won the 100 and 200 freestyle events and swam a leg of thefirst-place 200 and 400 freestyle relays.

“We know they’re good, but we’ve always done pretty well against them,” Silkaitis added.

The team received other individual first-place finishes from Justin Mortimer (100 freestyle), Todd Smolinski (100 backstroke), Jeff Hackler (100 breaststroke), Allen Ong (50 freestyle), Matt Taylor (500 freestyle) and Ben Baumann (one-meter diving).

The Gophers improved their record to 5-0 in dual meets this season and 3-0 in the Big Ten after defeating Iowa the week before.

But head coach Dennis Dale knows his team must keep improving if it wants to compete with fourth-ranked Michigan, who hosts the Big Ten championships Feb. 27-Mar. 1.

“We have to be more consistent,” Dale said. “If we want to win Big Tens we can’t afford to have off-swims in the meet. We’ve got to have just one good swim after another.”

The men’s team will join the women again this weekend to compete in the Minnesota Challenge at the Aquatic Center – its last competition before traveling to Ann Arbor at the end of the month.

“This is good,” Dale said, “but it’s a different level swimming against Michigan.”

Brett Angel welcomes comments at [email protected]