Women’s swimming earns Big Ten repeat

Brian Stensaas

INDIANAPOLIS — The members of the Minnesota women’s swimming and diving team crowded the championship podium with smiles stretching from ear to ear Saturday night.
They stood on the IUPUI natatorium platform, clutching their second Big Ten trophy in as many years.
In near mirror fashion, the Gophers used enormous depth and three straight days of solid results to successfully defend their Big Ten championship.
Minnesota accumulated 562.5 points — the fewest in history to win the meet — to top Michigan’s 501 and Northwestern’s 459.
It marks just the second time in all of Minnesota women’s sports history that a team defended its Big Ten title. The women’s gymnastics team won back-to-back titles in 1988 and 1989.
“We knew we had the nucleus of a very good team,” coach Jean Freeman said. “I had confidence that we could win this, but that’s different than actually living through it.”
After finishing the first day with an eight-point lead over Michigan, Minnesota turned up the heat in the Friday preliminaries.
The effort namely came from Katy Christoferson, who turned in the fastest time in the 400 individual medley. She was almost four seconds faster than the next qualifier.
Christoferson won the event. If she hadn’t, Minnesota would have won the Big Ten championship without a champion in any one event.
“I was looking for a bit of a faster time, but I was happy,” Christoferson said. “It is all worth it.”
From that point forward, depth was the word of the weekend and Minnesota spread it like butter.
In three of the 20 events, the Gophers placed three swimmers among the top eight, guaranteeing 11 points or more for the team — 11 very valuable points.
“I knew our depth would hold us, but Michigan kept coming,” Freeman said, noting that the Wolverines came within 18.5 points at one time. “They don’t really have any weak points either, so again, for us, it was sheer numbers this weekend.”
Christoferson’s win in the 400 IM secured her spot on the All-Big Ten team. Terri Jashinsky and Kelsey Hegener earned two of the three at-large All-Big Ten births.
Jashinsky earned her spot by taking second in the event she won last year — the 100 butterfly — missing a repeat win by one-hundredth of a second to Wisconsin’s Gina Panighetti. She also took fourth in the 200 butterfly.
Hegener turned in a pair of strong finishes in the breaststroke events to earn her nod. She finished second in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke, earning an NCAA automatic time in the 100.
But the meet might have been won for the Gophers by a welcome surprise at the diving end of the pool.
Tracy LaVoi and Rachel Degener earned team points by finishing among the top eight divers on the 1-meter springboard Thursday. LaVoi, a walk-on diver, came back Friday to finish in a tie for second on the 3-meter.
“Overall, we were great,” diving coach KZ Li said. “Tracy has trained so hard and never given up. She was told when she was recruited that she was a Division II diver, but she worked her way up here and did a wonderful job.”
The success continued in the exhibition platform competition with Christina Rinkus taking home the third-place plaque.
Though the Gophers have won their second straight Big Ten crown, don’t expect this to be the beginning of the next dynasty (i.e. Michigan’s 12 straight crowns from 1986-1998).
Minnesota graduates nine seniors at the end of the year, a fact that could make a three-peat tough to attain.
“We’re going to take the back-to-back,” Freeman said. “We will be enjoying that. We’ll return, that’s for sure. I just don’t know if it will be next year.”

Brian Stensaas covers swimming and diving and welcomes comments at [email protected]