Women’s swimmers still undefeated

Ryan Schuster

In the morning shadow at the east end of the University Aquatic Center on Dec. 31, Gophers women’s swimming assistant coach Terry Nieszner led several athletes in stretching exercises. At the opposite side of the pool, Coach Jean Freeman watched as a few others practiced swimming with foam fins on their hands. The busy practice complex looked more like a packed health club than a festive New Year’s Eve gathering.
That scene was representative of how the winter break went for the women’s swimming and diving team. The Gophers spent almost a week and a half of their break in Hawaii on a training trip. Make no mistake, though, the trip was no vacation.
“It was hard,” junior swimmer Olga Splichalova said. “We swam a lot, worked really hard and didn’t have much time off.”
Each day, the team had a pair of two-hour swimming workouts and trained out of the water for an hour.
“It was an excellent break,” Gophers coach Jean Freeman said. “Whenever you get away from school, family and friends, you know you’re there to train.”
Not only did the team train fervently during the winter break, but it also improved greatly over the month-long layoff from school.
“I think they made quite a bit of progress,” Freeman said. “Our meet with the University of Hawaii shows that they can still swim fast when they are very tired. A lot of them couldn’t believe we were having a meet. We actually practiced right before the meet and some of them didn’t think they would go that fast. They found out they can do amazing things.”
The Gophers dominated the Hawaii-Wachine squad, beating the host team 149-55 on Dec. 19. Minnesota improved to 5-0 in dual meets and 6-0 overall on the season after the victory.
Despite forfeiting the diving events (because the divers didn’t accompany the rest of the team to Hawaii) and letting more than just their top talent compete, the Gophers won 12 of the 14 events at the meet. Minnesota’s diving team stayed at home and practiced with the Twin Cities Diving Club at the Aquatic Center because diving coach Kongzheng Li was in Japan conducting a clinic over the break.
Freshman Amy Cottrill led the way, winning the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events and swimming the last leg of the victorious 200 medley relay team.
The Gophers’ Jenny Hennen won the 1,000 freestyle and Carolyn Donald took first in the 100 freestyle while both swam on the victorious 200 freestyle relay squad. Splichalova, Terri Jashinsky, Marta Knowles, Jamie Holden and Michelle Fischer also won individual events.
Minnesota will put its undefeated record on the line Friday in a dual meet with No. 19 Kansas at the Aquatic Center. The Gophers are looking to avenge a loss to the Jayhawks last season in Lawrence, Kan.
“Kansas is going to be tough,” Freeman said. “They beat us last year, and their team isn’t much different than it was last year. I think we’re better, but they beat us last year, and we can’t forget about that.”
The Gophers will also host the Gold Country Invitational on Saturday before continuing their Big Ten season Jan. 18 at Northwestern. Minnesota is 1-0 in the conference with a 177-118 home victory on Nov. 9 over Penn State.
Recruiting problems
Minnesota is recruiting several swimmers and divers for next season and plans to bring in 15 to 20 high school athletes for campus visits this quarter. The team will lose 11 swimmers and three divers this year to eligibility.
Diving coach Kongzheng Li said he has yet to sign any new recruits for next year. Li confirmed that one diving recruit was declared ineligible by NCAA standards, and three others have decided to attend other schools. High school divers Michelle Davidson from South Carolina, who was fourth at the U.S. Olympic Trials and Ashley Culpepper from Texas, who finished fifth at last year’s Senior Nationals are the most notable divers to turn down the Gophers this year. Culpepper chose Louisiana State because of the weather and the proximity to home, while Davidson is still looking at schools near her parents’ South Carolina home.
“It is a little hard right now to recruit because of the weather,” Li said. “We still have some very talented divers that are interested in us. I’m just waiting right now.”
Note: Coach Freeman confirmed that Andrea Simakova, a transfer student from the Czech Republic will not be able to compete with the team this year. Simakova attended college for two years in the Czech Republic but was ruled ineligible to swim with the Gophers during winter quarter because she took a quarter of school off to train for the Czech national team last spring.
She will enroll at Minnesota and can practice with the team this year, but will have to wait until next season to compete with the Gophers.