Freeman marks improvement of squad, calls title talk premature

Brian Stensaas

Moments after the Minnesota women’s swimming and diving team captured the Big Ten championship trophy in February of 2000 – its second in as many years – the team took a celebration dip into the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis pool. With them went coach Jean Freeman.

Asked after the jubilee if the back-to-back championships were a sign of a Gophers dynasty in the making, a damp Freeman stated that the team would be back. But it would not be the following season.

The coach could not have been more correct. Minnesota finished a mediocre sixth in the conference last season and scored just one point in the NCAA championships. The lone tally was earned by then-senior Katy Christoferson in the 200-yard IM.

Though the first meet of the season is still over a month away and no official team goals have been set, Freeman is confident the squad is back on its way to the top.

“This rebuilding process is more than a one-season deal,” she said. “But I definitely think we should be better this year.”

Back for her third season in the lanes and tagged as one of the team’s leaders is junior Dana Baum. A distance swimmer who came on strong during her freshman campaign, Baum competed in her first NCAA meet last season in multiple freestyle events, but did not gain any points. She narrowly missed the big show two years ago.

“I have no clue how good we’ll be this year, but that’s part of the fun,” Baum said. “I want to go back (to the NCAAs) and get my name in there with some points. Knowing I can go there and improve is very motivating.”

Freeman pitted sophomore Juleen Rodakowski and senior Jinny Smedstad as other top returners to this year’s roster.

Rodakowski, a consistent butterfly swimmer a year ago, had a very productive off-season according to Freeman.

Smedstad, an all-American in her first two seasons, has had three solid years of success at Minnesota. Freeman said she expects the senior to turn it up in this, Smedstad’s final season.

Freeman, who boasts a 200-53-4 overall dual meet record, will have a pair of freshmen thrown into the mix to aid Baum and Smedstad with the freestyle relay. Expect to see Paige Gilgan and 2001 Minnesota high school Swimmer of the Year Sarah Solfelt competing along with the veterans. Also new to the team is junior transfer Keri Hehn, a breaststroke specialist.

“(Without a team meeting) it is a little hard to say what team goals will be,” Freeman said. “Personally, I’m looking for some pretty hefty goals. I want to be in the top half of the Big Ten, and I would like to have four all-Americans.”

Minnesota is already battling the injury bug as Ari Gardner and Casey Nicholson are still recuperating from shoulder surgeries. It is not known when they will be back to full strength.

There is also no way to tell whether the Gophers will improve upon last year’s results, but there is no doubt their coach is optimistic.

“We’ve certainly improved in the last year,” Freeman said. “We will be back, but I don’t think going for a Big Ten title.”

 

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