The wait is over.
After months of practice, dual meets and invitational tournaments, the Big Ten championships have arrived for the Minnesota women’s swimming and diving team.
It has been a year since the Gophers hosted the 1999 Big Ten meet and walked away with their first Big Ten crown.
They made a little history in the process. Minnesota knocked down perennial power Michigan, which had 12 straight title wins, taking the meet by an insurmountable 173 points.
Now it’s the Gophers who are being hunted after years on the prowl. And that’s not the only change in store for this year.
Coach Jean Freeman spent the majority of the year just concentrating on the Gophers, not the times of the other teams.
“It has helped me concentrate on what we need to do for Big Tens,” she said. “I have been focused on our team and feel good about our team.”
After more than a decade of nothing but Michigan atop the Big Ten podium, the pressure wind has shifted west to Minnesota.
“It is perceived as quite a bit of pressure,” she said. “If we swim well, we will be favored to repeat and I believe that it is possible.”
With 17 of the 20 members who scored points at last year’s meet back again this season, swimming well won’t be a problem for the Gophers.
Among the 17 returnees are seniors Terri Jashinsky and Jenny Hennen. The two combined to sweep the Big Ten butterfly events a year ago and will swim their final Big Ten laps this weekend.
Minnesota has also beefed up its roster by adding first-year distance specialist Dana Baum. Her addition is a welcome one. The Gophers managed just a 10th-place finish in the 1650-yard freestyle in 1999 — a number sure to be improved on this weekend.
Aside from being the defending conference champions, Minnesota has a technical advantage going for it as well. The starting blocks at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis are nearly identical to those at Minnesota’s home pool.
“The blocks there are similar and that should help us,” Freeman said. “We will have the advantage because the starts will be just like our home pool that we are in every day.”
Competition gets underway today at 11 a.m. EST with finals at 7 p.m. EST. The same schedule holds for tomorrow and Saturday.
“We have a well-balanced team of swimmers and divers represented this year,” Freeman said. “They have done a good job, individually as well as a team.”
Brian Stensaas covers swimming and diving and welcomes comments at [email protected]