Hennen tops challenges in school, swimming

Ryan Schuster

A loud cheer emanated from the stands in the University Aquatic Center at the Minnesota Invitational on Nov. 24 as swimmer Jenny Hennen’s name was announced.
Even though she is only in her first year of collegiate swimming, the quiet freshman from Anoka has already become a fan favorite at Minnesota.
Some of the reasons for Hennen’s popularity with the Aquatic Center faithful include her hometown roots and the way she has excelled in the pool this fall.
In only four meets this season, Hennen has received NCAA consideration times in the 50, 100 and 200-yard freestyle events and as a member of the 200, 400 and 800 medley relay events. She has the fastest time in the Big Ten this season in the 50 freestyle and is rated in the conference’s top 10 in six other events. Hennen also swims on each of the Gophers’ six relay teams, which are all ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten.
Before this season, Hennen had no idea that she would be able to make the transition from high school this quickly.
“I didn’t think I’d be doing this well,” Hennen said. “I had no idea I’d be going this fast. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up.”
Only a few months ago, none of her success even seemed possible. Right up until the start of fall quarter Hennen’s collegiate swimming future remained up in the air.
Over the summer, the NCAA Clearinghouse initially refused to clear Hennen to compete this fall after her first application showed that she had not taken enough core courses in high school that were endorsed by the NCAA. The mix-up occurred because Hennen took postsecondary classes at Anoka-Ramsey Community College during her senior year of high school and did not complete enough English credits that met the NCAA’s criteria.
Hennen was mistakenly told by her guidance counsellors at Anoka High School that she had completed all the requirements needed to be eligible to compete as a freshman this year. As a result, she was not allowed to swim with Minnesota until another application was submitted to the NCAA explaining the mistake.
The strange thing about the entire incident is that Hennen is an excellent student. She graduated from high school with a 3.9 grade point average and also achieved a 3.45 GPA in 42 postsecondary credits.
Hennen has stayed strong mentally and remained upbeat throughout her frustrating experience with the NCAA.
“I wasn’t really worried about (not being eligible),” Hennen said. “I knew it would turn out. I knew that I did what I needed to do.”
The accounting major even remained more poised than her parents and coaches during the ordeal.
“It was very hard,” Gophers coach Jean Freeman said. “It was a tough headache. She’s very laid back, though. She wasn’t fazed by it.”
“I never thought that it would affect my swimming,” Hennen said.
In high school, the 19-year-old was nothing short of dominating in the pool. She was a six-time high school All-American in the 100 butterfly, and the 100 and 200 freestyle events. Hennen was also the 100-meter freestyle champion at the 1995 Olympic Festival.
“I’ve been watching her since she was in ninth grade,” Freeman said. “To me, it’s a natural progression from where she’s been. She’s had very good coaching. I think she can be a Big Ten champion.”
Hennen’s goals in swimming are just as lofty as her accomplishments. She plans to try out for the World University Games this summer, and the 2000 summer Olympic games in Sydney, Australia.
She believes she has picked an ideal place to showcase her talents.
While choosing colleges, Hennen also considered going to Northwestern, but settled on Minnesota because of the facilities, coaches and proximity to home.
Early on in her Gophers swimming career Hennen has become almost as enamored with the fans at Minnesota as they are with her.
“I love it here,” Hennen said. “(The fans) get me going. It’s fun to have the support.”