Swimmers look to individualize at NCAA meet

David La

Number one on the University of Minnesota Women’s Athletic Department’s philosophy top 10 list (and there is such a thing):
Positive attitude — I can and we will.
The “we” portion of the women’s swimming and diving team did its part last year. The Gophers used overwhelming depth to win their first-ever Big Ten title.
This season, it’s time for the “I’s” to shine. After winning the Big Ten title, the best individual Minnesota swimmers went to the NCAA meet and finished 24th. Four Big Ten schools finished ahead of Minnesota.
“They need to look at their individual goals now,” coach Jean Freeman said, “and know that they can trust the team to move forward and be there.”
Team scoring is a strength of the team once again. The Gophers only lost one swimmer and one diver who scored points at last year’s Big Ten meet. The pair accounted for 66.5 points out of the 668.5 accumulated at the Big Ten meet.
“Our depth is just phenomenal,” Freeman said. “Our butterfliers could get five out of the top eight spots in the finals at Big Tens if we choose to put all of them in that event. That’s the definition of fun.”
But when the NCAA championships roll around, the performances are the definition of lukewarm.
Out of the team of eight Gophers who went to the meet, only one competed in an individual final last year. Terri Jashinsky took honorable-mention All-American honors with her 13th-place finish in the 100-yard butterfly.
One unlikely ally, the semester conversion, should help the team this year. Last year and all those before, the swimmers who competed at the NCAA meet did so during finals week of winter quarter.
This year, the academic burden won’t be there to distract the athletes.
Freeman would like to see her group graduate to the level of Big Ten rival Michigan, a team that is a force at the conference and national meets.
“Last year, the team goal was to win the Big Ten meet,” Freeman said. “This year, that’s going to be one of our goals, but rather than focus on Big Tens so much, include NCAAs as a major focus.”
Minnesota will be led by senior captains Jashinsky, Rachel Degener, and Kate McMillan — a trio known for their blue-collar approach to training — meaning the defending Big Ten champions are unlikely to be complacent.
If that’s not enough, the Gophers came into the season ranked 16th nationally, eight spots ahead of where they finished last year.
“I’m happy to be in the top 20, because we didn’t finish in the top 20 last year,” Freeman said. “I thought, ‘Good, the people still have confidence in us.’ Because I do believe we’re a better team than we showed at NCAAs last year.”
This year, the Gophers will need the individual confidence in themselves that pollsters have shown if they hope to improve on their NCAA performance last year.

David La Vaque covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]