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Swim teams honor seniors, ready for postseason

Designed to be a tuneup before the Big Ten championships in three weeks, the Minnesota Invite was a final look for coaches at what the men’s swimming and diving team has to offer.

Season-best times were posted over the weekend by Todd Smolinski in the 200-yard backstroke at 1:47.99, Jeff Hackler in the 200-yard breaststroke at 2:00.11, Justin Mortimer in the 1,650-yard freestyle at 15:17.64 and Allen Ong in the 100-yard butterfly at 49.27. John Schmidt also placed first in both the one meter and three meter diving events.

The University of Texas was expected to attend the meet and would have allowed the sixth-ranked Gophers a preview of where they are at going into the NCAA meet. However, No. 5 Texas declined its invitation.

The Gophers have dominated at Big Tens the past two years, but will find themselves battling for the title this year. Host Michigan has earned the first place ranking throughout the entire conference season and will have the advantage swimming in their home pool.

The Minnesota Invite was pivotal in deciding who will comprise the final Big Ten team – seeing what younger swimmers had to offer. The final travel squad will be announced Monday.

“We went into the meet hoping for better-swum races, technically better races, better turns, better starts, better walls and better strategic races,” head coach Dennis Dale said.

Seniors were honored Friday night with a special presentation. The seniors have been a part of two Big Ten championship teams and two second place Big Ten finishes. The senior class combined has 34 All-America honors.

“Our senior class has a nice bond together,” Smolinski said. “We had a good time.”

Women gear up for Big Tens

The Minnesota Invite was a bittersweet meet for the 10 senior women of the Gophers swimming and diving team.

A preview for the Big Ten Championships, the Invite also served as a farewell for the seniors. All were swimming in their last home meet, some were gearing up for Big Tens and others were cooling down from four years of intense training and competition.

The Gophers swept all five events on Friday night. Several women placed first in multiple events, including Dana Baum and Kristin Rygg.

After placing ninth at the Big Ten Championships last year, the women expect to move up to at least the middle of the pack when they swim at host Purdue on Feb. 19-22.

The Minnesota Invite provided the women chosen for the Big Ten squad a chance to find a third event in which to compete.

“It (the success this weekend) gives encouragement to our group that hasn’t rested yet as to how well they’re going to do,” head coach Jean Freeman said.

The team has pulled together with high hopes for improvement going into the Big Ten meet.

“We support each other 100 percent,” Shauna Riggs said. “We push each other in the pool during practice to go faster and that’s going to show when we go to Big Tens.”

Sam Campanaro welcomes comments at [email protected]

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