Minnesota set to end year at NCAA Championships

The team will send four divers to the meet for the second consecutive season.

Thomas Jaakola

The Gophers men’s swimming and diving team will send three individual swimmers and four divers to the NCAA Championships in Atlanta, Ga., which begins Wednesday and runs through Saturday.
Three of the team’s competing divers, seniors Dylan Zoe and Manny Pollard and junior Matt Barnard, are returning from last year’s championships. Freshman Alan LeBlang will join the upperclassmen this year to give Minnesota four divers at the NCAA meet for the second year in a row. The Gophers’ four divers were tied for the most from a team last year.
Barnard and Zoe will compete in all three diving events, while Pollard qualified on the 1-meter and platform dive, and LeBlang qualified on just the platform.
“I’m looking forward to diving with a big team,” Barnard said. “People often underestimate Minnesota swimming and diving, and I think we are going to prove them wrong. I want to be top eight in platform and top 16 on [the 3-meter].”
Barnard placed third in the NCAA on the platform last year with a school-record score of 473.80 points.
He broke his own record with a score of 475.40 at the Jean K. Freeman Invitational on Dec. 4 but scored 408.15 points at the Big Ten Championships on Feb. 27 to take fourth.
“Matt’s one of the best divers in the world. We’re fortunate he’s here,” head coach Kelly Kremer said. “I think here, too, there’s so much experience on that diving squad.
We’ve got the best group of divers in the country at this meet. They’ve given us great performances all year, and I think we’re going to get more of the same this weekend.”
In the pool, the Gophers are sending sophomore Conner McHugh, junior Jakub Maly and freshman Bowe Becker as individuals.
McHugh will swim in the 200 individual medley, in addition to the 100 and 200 breaststroke, and he set school records in the latter two events at the Big Ten Championships.
“I’m really just looking forward to racing against the best of the best and having the chance to score for the team,” McHugh said. “My goals are to drop time in all of my events, individuals and relays, and to get All-American honors.”
Maly will also swim in the 200 individual medley and breaststroke in addition to the 400 individual medley. He broke the school record in the 400 individual medley at last year’s Big Ten Championships with a time of 3:42.54.
“Jakub’s got a ton of experience,” Kremer said. “This is his third year in a row now of being at this meet. I expect to see a guy who is confident and experienced, and he’ll do what he’s done for Minnesota all along, which is give us great performances.”
Becker will swim the 50 and 100 freestyle and also qualified to compete in the 200 freestyle relay with juniors Paul Fair, Daryl Turner and Noah Busch. 
The relay team hit the NCAA automatic qualifying time of 1:17.79 in a time trial after the Big Ten Championships.
Along with junior Ian Gordon, the Gophers will be able to mix and match swimmers to form relay teams not just in the 200 freestyle but also in the 400 free, 200 medley and 400 medley.
Kremer said one of the biggest differences in this year’s team compared to last is its leadership, and he said it showed in the relays.
“I think that’s been instrumental in getting our relays back to this meet,” Kremer said. “That’s really stood out to me this year compared to last year, where that leadership allowed us to have a few more athletes to compete in the meet this year, and I think that’s only going to get better.”