Women dominate conference meet

The Gophers women’s swimming and diving team won its second consecutive Big Ten championship.

Minnesota swimmer Haley Spencer celebrates after winning the 100-yard breaststroke at the Big Ten championships Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, at the University Aquatic Center.

Emily Dunker

Minnesota swimmer Haley Spencer celebrates after winning the 100-yard breaststroke at the Big Ten championships Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, at the University Aquatic Center.

by Nate Gotlieb

They won nearly half the events over the four-day championships and earned 45 top-10 finishes. They broke 10 school records and earned the highest team score at a Big Ten championship since 1996. Twenty-five Gophers swimmers and divers broke at least one personal record.

It all led to a second consecutive Big Ten championship for Minnesota.

The Gophers earned 831.5 points over four days, dominating the field to win the women’s Big Ten swimming and diving championship Saturday at the University Aquatic Center.

Indiana finished second (671.5), and Penn State (498.5), Ohio State (384) and Purdue (363) rounded out the top five.

“It shows just how dominant we are in this conference,” senior captain Haley Spencer said. “It seems like every year, we’re still seen as the underdog for some reason, and I think that this might have opened people’s eyes up to finally recognizing that talent and the depth we have on this team.”

Minnesota head coach Kelly Kremer said this week’s performance was probably the best in women’s Big Ten championship history.

Kremer earned Big Ten Swimming Coach of the Year honors for the second straight season. Junior diver Maggie Keefer claimed Big Ten Diver of the Championships honors, winning 1-meter and 3-meter diving and finishing sixth in platform diving. Gophers diving coach Wenbo Chen earned Big Ten Diving Coach of the Year.

The Gophers set the tone in the opening event of the championships Wednesday, coming from behind in the last 50 yards to win the 200-yard medley relay.

Junior Erin Caflisch swam the final leg of the relay in 21.69 seconds, helping her relay overtake Indiana, and setting the first of 10 school records. Indiana won the second event of the championships, leaving them tied with the Gophers after the first day.

But by the end of the second day, the Gophers had broken open a 92-point lead. The team won three titles Thursday night, including a second relay title.

The Gophers stretched the lead to 151 points Friday night behind a strong showing in the 100 butterfly. The team accrued 64 points in the event, placing five swimmers in the top 11, while Indiana scored just three points.

Sophomore Becca Weiland won the 100 butterfly with a time of 51.61 seconds, breaking a Big Ten record.

The Gophers stretched the lead over Indiana to 176 points Friday with seven top-five finishes in the 200 freestyle and 100 breaststroke. Indiana cut it to 134 with a strong team performance in the 100 backstroke, but Keefer and the Gophers’ diving corps quelled any serious chance of a comeback in 3-meter diving.

Keefer won the 3-meter dive as the Gophers closed Friday with a 151-point lead.

Indiana cut the lead to 110 points Saturday when it placed five swimmers in the top-10 of the 200 backstroke. But the Gophers responded with four top-10 finishes in the 100 freestyle.

Spencer and freshman Kierra Smith punctuated the victory Saturday with a one-two finish in the 200 breaststroke. Spencer, who won the event at the 2011 NCAA championships, set a Big Ten record with a time of 2:05.98, the third-fastest in the NCAA this season.

The Gophers finished the championships with a victory and a school record in the 400 freestyle relay.

Then the celebration began, and the women and Goldy Gopher took a plunge in the diving well.

But come Monday, the Gophers shift their focus to their next goal: the NCAA championships.

“We’re going to prove that the Big Ten can make an impact nationally,” head women’s coach Terry Nieszner said. “And we intend to be in the top 10 at [the] NCAAs.”