Men’s swim team second

Ryan Schuster

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — One look at the Gophers bench Saturday night at the Counsilman/Billingsley Aquatics Center told the story of the Big Ten Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships.
Minnesota’s swimmers were visibly shaken on the sideline, watching helplessly as No. 7 Michigan came from behind to edge the Gophers 648-631 on the last day of competition for the conference title.
No. 22 Indiana was third with 431 points, No. 24 Purdue took fourth with 384 and No. 23 Ohio Sate finished fifth with 356.
After racing out to a 200-178 lead at the end of the first day, No. 9 Minnesota saw its advantage dwindle to only one point at 438-437 after the second day. Michigan stormed back to take the lead for good following the first event on Saturday.
With the Wolverines up by 39 points before the last event of the meet, reality started to set in for the Gophers. “It’s pretty much a disappointment,” Gophers freshman Yoav Meiri said despondently, looking straight ahead with a glazed-over look. “I swam pretty well and other guys swam well. But we just didn’t make it. I did my job and I guess it wasn’t enough. They’ve got the title and we don’t.”
The Gophers refused to quit, however, as they won the 400-yard freestyle relay, the final event of the meet in a time of 2 minutes, 56.81 seconds, cutting the margin of defeat to a mere 17 points. Behind by 39 points, Minnesota needed a Michigan disqualification (so it wouldn’t gain any more points) and a first-place finish to pick up 40 points and come back to win on the last event. It was not meant to be, though, as the Wolverines picked up where they left off two years ago, winning their 11th Big Ten championship in the last 12 years.
“It’s disappointing when you’re this close and don’t win,” Gophers coach Dennis Dale said. “But we had a good meet.”
Despite losing to the Wolverines on the last day, the Gophers still had plenty of positives to take from the Big Tens.
“I don’t think we have anything to hang our heads about,” senior Mitch Henke said. “We can’t be ashamed. Everybody needs to realize that we did well. We had just as many if not more points than last year.”
Minnesota’s tally of 631 points this year topped their winning total of 620.5 from a year ago. Even though the Gophers only won four of the 19 scored events over the weekend, they were impressive in each of their victories.
The Gophers’ 200-yard medley relay squad of Henke, Eriek Hulseman, Martin Zielinski and Ty Bathurst started the meet off with a bang on Thursday by taking first and setting a Big Ten record in the process. The relay’s time of 1:28.07 broke the old record set by Minnesota in 1994 and also automatically qualified for the NCAA championships Mar. 27-29, which will be held at the University Aquatic Center.
Zielinski, a sophomore from Bloomington, Minn., also set a conference mark in the 100 butterfly. His winning time of 47.09 eclipsed the old Big Ten meet record by more than four-tenths of a second in addition to being an NCAA automatic qualifying time. Minnesota’s other two first-place finishes were in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays. Both earned NCAA consideration times.
All three winning Gophers relays were named to the All-Big Ten team. Others receiving All-Big Ten honors were Zielinski in the 100 butterfly and fellow sophomore Jonathan McLeod as an at-large selection. Zielinski was also Minnesota’s top point-scorer and the fourth-highest scorer at the meet, tallying 52 points. “We are a good team with a lot of great individuals,” Bathurst said. “As a team we’re more together and a lot deeper than last year.”
As the team scores were announced at the end of the meet, the Gophers clapped stoically when they were announced in second place. After Michigan was introduced as the 1997 Big Ten champions, Minnesota’s swimmers politely shook hands with all the Wolverines and exchanged pleasantries. The pained expressions on the Gophers’ faces, however, told another story.

Notes: Michigan’s John Piersma was awarded Big Ten Swimmer of the Year and Purdue’s Dan Ross was named the conference’s coach of the year.