Gophers head into new season with confidence

David Nelson

Based on how the athletes spoke Wednesday afternoon at the University Aquatic Center, the Minnesota swimming and diving teams are ready for a big year.

The men’s and women’s teams will kick off their 2014-15 season this weekend when they hit the road to take on Arizona State.

Despite the loss of talent on both teams after last year’s seniors graduated, the Gophers don’t seem to have lost their swagger.

“This team, since I got here, has been going through some rebuilding and some transition phases,” senior distance freestyler C.J. Smith said. “We’ve been doing a great job of holding it together. Now’s finally the time where … it’s all together.”

It all came together for the women’s team last February as the Gophers won their third consecutive Big Ten title. However, senior Tori Simenec said the team needs to stay focused to ensure it stays on top.

“Other teams have their eye on the same prize that we do,” Simenec said. “And we’re trying to make sure that we want it just as much if not more than the other teams.”

The men’s team fell short of its goals after the 2013-14 regular season concluded.

Following a fourth place finish at Big Ten championships, the men’s team took 22nd among teams at the NCAA championships.

“We certainly left a lot on the table at NCAAs,” Smith said.

Though Smith said everyone’s goal is to improve his or her standing at NCAAs, the senior acknowledged that the goal for this season remains to further the program.

“We just want to leave this team on a better note than when we came in,” Smith said. “If that means placing higher at NCAAs, so be it. If that means setting this team up so the year after they kill it, that’s what it takes.”

The men’s and women’s teams often talked about the closeness of the groups last season, and senior associate head coach Terry Ganley said she’s already seen that closeness come out this fall.

“The team has said that themselves … that it’s been the easiest transition for our freshmen coming in,” Ganley said. “It’s a great team chemistry right now.”

Simenec and Smith were both quick to rave about the talent within the team’s freshman class.

“We got so many good people, so that’s something to be confident about,” Simenec said. “The freshmen are just doing a great job of stepping up and filling the shoes of the people who did leave.”

The Gophers appear to be in high spirits as they get ready to face off against the Sun Devils.

But no one sounded more excited to start this season than one of the coaches.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been in a better place, and I’ve coached here 30 plus years,” Ganley said.