Gophers win another Big Ten title

Minnesota won its third straight title with a final score of 760 points.

David Nelson

For the first time in the program’s 44-year history, the Gophers women’s swimming and diving team won its third straight Big Ten championship.

After four grueling days and seven different sessions, the competition culminated with players and coaches leaping into the diving well at the University Aquatic Center.

“It’s a testament to the type of student-athletes we’re fortunate enough to work with,” head coach Kelly Kremer said. “They put themselves in a position to be at their best at the biggest moments that we experience. It means a tremendous amount to all of us.”

For the seniors on the team, the third straight title ended their Big Ten careers in the best way possible.

“It means so much to me because I’m a senior,” Monica Radecke said. “I think we’re all just really lucky to be a part of this team this year.”

The Gophers finished with a team score of 760 points and won the meet by more than 100 points. Indiana took second place with 649 points, and Penn State rounded out the top three with 484 points.

Though the final tally might not fully reflect it, the Hoosiers proved to be a tough test for Minnesota.

“Indiana and us have been one-two now for a number of years,” Kremer said. “They’re a phenomenal team, and every year … they are always on at this meet.”

Indiana jumped out to an early lead in the meet, placing first and second in the relays on the first night of competition.

Minnesota kept things close, though, with a win in the 800-yard freestyle relay.

By the end of the second day, the Gophers had pushed out to a strong lead.

Kremer said he told his team to refrain from sneaking peeks at the scoreboard.

“I know that’s really a challenge in this type of environment,” Kremer said. “I try not to look up there very much. I just get nervous.”

Some swimmers and divers said it was tough to follow that order.

“We try not to scoreboard-watch,” junior Tori Simenec said, “but it’s hard not to look on your way out of the pool every night.”

While the Gophers jumped out in front as a team, the first individual event win didn’t come until the third day of the meet.

Gophers sophomore Kierra Smith placed first in the 100-yard breaststroke. She said it was a win she wasn’t expecting.

“I think touching the wall and hearing the crowd and my team cheering was one of the … proudest moments I’ve had in swimming,” Smith said. “I’ve never experienced something like that.”

After Smith took home the first individual honor for her team, senior diver Maggie Keefer followed suit.

Though she failed to defend her 1-meter crown, Keefer won the 3-meter event for the second year in a row.

While the team claimed only three event wins in three days, the Gophers still retained a lead heading into the final day of the Big Ten meet.

Kremer said the score reflected the team’s depth and gritty attitude.

“I ran into somebody … who said, ‘You’ve really got kind of a lunch-pail team right now. They go to work and get the job done.’ That’s a good description for how this meet went. It was a true team effort.”

Smith swept the breaststroke events with a win in the 200-yard breaststroke on the fourth and final day of competition. Minnesota senior diver Sarah McCrady provided an exclamation point to the meet with a win in platform diving.

Simenec said the moment she and her teammates got to jump in the pool to celebrate the win was something she’ll remember forever.

“It’s so exciting,” she said. “It’s really special to get to celebrate something like that with a team you’ve been working so hard with.”