Men’s swimming and diving team hoping to equal last year’s ncaa finish

Kent Erdahl

Minnesota’s men’s swimming and diving team likes traveling as a group.

The Gophers captured the Big Ten title on Feb. 28 when 25 swimmers traveled to West Lafayette, Ind., and earned points for the team.

This week, approximately half of those swimmers traveled together again searching for a greater goal.

Minnesota has sent 12 swimmers to the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, which began Thursday and ends Saturday at the Nassau County Aquatic Center in East Meadow, N.Y., on Long Island.

The Gophers’ major races and first-place opportunities are in the freestyle relays. Minnesota owns the third seed in the 400-meter free relay, the fourth seed in the 800-meter free relay and the sixth seed in the 200-meter free relay.

“Those are our big-time events,” coach Dennis Dale said. “We need to make hay in those relays.”

The Big Ten champions also have one swimmer ranked in the top 10 of five events and the top 20 of eight.

But despite the high rankings, the team is not expected to earn many individual titles – Minnesota won the Big Ten Championship without a single individual win.

Junior Terry Silkaitis has the best chance. He ranks No. 2 in the 200-meter freestyle with a time of 1:34.42.

In the other events, Minnesota again looks to multiple swimmers to bolster its team score.

In order to do that, the Gophers need solid performances out of a young group that has little or no experience at the NCAA Championships.

Six Gophers, including Igor Cerensek, Mario Delac, Sean Kelly, Adam Mitchell, Ales Volcansek and Zach Wood are competing in their first NCAA meet.

Travis Beckerle, Sean McCaffrey and Neil Osten are in their second national championships.

Dale said the team and those individuals benefit regardless of their inexperience.

“You can always see how the experience will serve them well into the future,” he said.

Despite the youth, the Gophers hope to match last season’s seventh-place finish.

The team will look for senior leadership from Ryan Plummer and Diego Urreta. But if the Gophers are going to score big, Dale said the young swimmers need to do their part.

“We really want to be in the top 10,” Dale said. “But we’re going to need these young guys to step up and hit a home run.”