Gophers 3rd after day one

by Kristian Pope

Gophers Devon Coellner, Tanya Schuh and Beth Shimanski have teammate Olga Splichalova to thank for getting them into next month’s NCAAs.
And while they’re at it, they ought to thank Coach Jean Freeman, too.
Just prior to the 400-yard medley relay Thursday night at the Big Ten Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, Freeman — using the earlier success of Splichalova as a motive — added the Czech Republic star to the relay team’s lineup.
While Freeman’s act was simply an attempt to land a Gophers relay team at NCAAs, she got that — and more.
With the help of Splichalova, the Gophers nearly won but finished just behind first-place Michigan with a time of 3 minutes, 43.05 seconds, ending the first day of events at the University Aquatic Center.
As the first of the three-day competition closed, the nine-time defending conference champion Wolverines found themselves in first place, winning four of six events and totalling 264 points.
Wisconsin finished with 166.5 points, followed by Minnesota (159), and Northwestern (135).
Because of Freeman’s strategy, the Gophers will likely send the relay team to compete for a national title in March.
Freeman remarked prior to the race, “Olga’s been swimming so well, … let’s live on the Wild Side.”
Really, Freeman’s decision was not a stroke of genius.
The sophomore Splichalova was dominant earlier in the 500 freestyle, beating Wisconsin’s Louisa Offerman with a spectacular time of 4:47.54, to win her first Big Ten championchip.
“Olga finally knows what it’s like to swim at Big Tens,” Freeman said. “Last year, she was so new and didn’t know what it meant.”
Last year — Splichalova’s first year at Minnesota — she placed fourth in the 500, despite having a stellar all-around year.
“Last year the whole team was so excited,” Splichalova said. “Back at home, I swam for myself. When I came here, everything changed so much”
Splichalova said swimming in the Czech Republic, where she is a national Olympic hopeful, was quite a different experience from being at Big Tens.
So this time around, Splichalova knew what she was getting into.
“There was too much pressure last year,” she said. “Now I just go out and have fun.”
The distance freestyler said she felt things clicking on Thursday. “I felt great in the water,” she said. “I only rested just a little bit. I was mentally ready.”
Despite her not trying to peak for Big Tens — she will do that in two months to prepare for Czech national team tryouts — she appeared in top form, blowing by the Badgers’ Offerman to win the 500.
“I didn’t know what to expect (for Thursday),” she said.
Splichalova added the needed spark for the Gophers, who witnessed the Wolverines take four events out of six.
Gophers diver Andrea Berg placed third in the 1-meter event with 394.75 points, behind Ohio State’s Aimee Hogan with 425.85 points. Michigan’s Carrie Zarse placed second with 415.55.
The Gophers’ Jenny Cook finished right behind Berg with 383 points.
In the 200 individual medley, the Gophers’ Jessica Grass, Gretchen Hegener and Coellner finished ninth, 10th and 11th respectively to earn Minnesota consolation points.

Team scoring — 1. Mich, 264; 2. Wis, 166.5; 3. Min, 159; 4. NU, 135; 5. Pur, 86; 6. Ind, 77; 7. Ill, 70.5; 8. OSU, 61; 9. PSU, 55; 10. Iowa, 51; 11. MSU, 43.
200 freestyle relay — 1, Mich, 1:30.89; 2. NU, 1:32.02; 3. Wis, 1:33.43. 50 freestyle — 1. Eberwein, Mich, 22.86; 2. Gillam, Mich, 23.02; 3. Booker, NU, 23.13; 16. Helvig, Min, 24.01. 500 freestyle — 1. Splichalova, Min, 4:47.54; 2. Offerman, Wis, 4:49.14; 3. Anderson, Wis, 4:50.10; 5. Wilson, Min, 4:52.32; 12. Hicken, Min, 4:55.32. 400 medley relay — 1. Mich, 3:42.18; 2. Min, 3:43.05; 3. NU, 3:43.23. 200 individual medley — 1. Johnson, Mich, 2:01.47; 2. Freiman, Wis, 2:02.08; 3. Gustin, Mich, 2:02.96; 9. Grass, Min, 2:05.31; 10. Hegener, Min, 2:05.87; 11. Coellner, Min, 2:06.16. 1-meter diving — 1, Hogan, OSU, 425.85; 2. Zarse, Mich, 415.55; 3. Berg, Min, 394.75; 4. Cook, Min, 383.