Women’s swimmingholds a senior edge

Ryan Schuster

Twenty-four years ago a college junior named Jean Freeman joined the Minnesota women’s swimming and diving program as an assistant coach.
When she took over as head coach for the 1973-74 Gophers swim team, Minnesota was still three years away from joining the Big Ten in the sport.
Under Freeman’s watchful eye, the team has turned into a perennial national power. Minnesota has had a winning record in 21 of her 23 seasons at the helm, and this year is no exception.
“We’ve got a strong nucleus coming back,” Freeman said. “I think we’re a better team than we were last year.”
The Gophers finished 15th last season at the NCAA Championship meet.
Minnesota returns 14 seniors from its 1995-96 squad, after losing only seven swimmers from last year. The team is ranked 15th in a preseason poll of the best teams in the NCAA, spelling danger for the rest of the Big Ten.
“We haven’t sat down and set our goals for this season yet,” Freeman said. “But I think we should be in the top three at conference and at least in the top 15 in the nation.”
Gophers seniors Jessica Grass and Tanya Schuh and juniors Olga Splichalova and Gretchen Hegener will lead the way for the team once again.
Grass set the school record in the 200-meter butterfly in 1994 as a freshman but suffered through a slump last season. Schuh barely missed making the Brazilian Olympic swim team in a disputed case this summer in the 100-meter butterfly. She set the Brazilian national record in the same event during the summer of 1995.
Splichalova, a distance freestyler, competed in the summer Olympics in Atlanta for the Czech Republic team but did not make the finals. She is an All-American in the 1,650-yard freestyle.
“We’ve got very good leaders, even outside of athletics,” Freeman said. “Our team has five to seven potential All-Americans this season.”
That fact should attest to how good the Gophers will be this season under Freeman, who has coached more than 50 All-Americans.