Minnesota second at Big Tens

by Jim Schortemeyer

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. —Minnesota’s athletes, sporting maroon and gold fingernails and toenails, showed their emotions throughout this weekend’s Big Ten swimming and diving championships. They supported one-another with raucous yelling for each Minnesota swimmer, and even joined the rival Michigan in a “U of M” cheer at the end of the meet.
But while it was a gutty weekend for the Gophers, Michigan showed once again that all the heart in the world couldn’t beat its deep talent pool.
The Wolverines finalized their 12th consecutive Big Ten team championship at Indiana University’s aquatic center on Saturday night. The pre-meet favorite, Michigan, defeated second-place Minnesota by a margin of 144 points. Minnesota was able to manage a school record for total points, 644.5. The old record was 608, set last year.
The Gophers and Wolverines were far and away the best teams at the meet. While Michigan handed Minnesota a fairly large loss, there was a gigantic rift of 250 points between Minnesota and third-place Northwestern. The Wildcats were followed closely by Wisconsin and Indiana.
Although dismayed by not being able to top Michigan, Minnesota’s swimmers were upbeat, as evidenced by the meet-ending cheer with the Wolverines.
“Since we’re all swimming well, we’re all having a lot of fun,” senior captain Shona Bailey said.
The Gophers fell behind quickly on Thursday, trailing 231.5-168. Despite winning three of six individual titles Friday, Minnesota only slipped further away from Michigan.
The Wolverines managed to place the majority of their swimmers in the final heat. While Minnesota’s athletes were getting individual glory, Michigan was scoring the second- third- and fourth-place points it needed to win the championship. The tally after Friday night had Minnesota trailing 553.5-430.5.
“(The Wolverines) are so strong, it’s amazing,” Minnesota head coach Jean Freeman said.
In a sense, Minnesota actually gained ground on Saturday, as it only fell behind Michigan an additional 21 points. Saturday’s competition saw only Gretchen Hegener winning an event, but numerous swimmers placed high enough to score for the Gophers.
The spirit of the meet was epitomized by Michigan coach Jim Richardson’s comments after the meet. Instead of seeing Minnesota as an enemy, he said he has a deep respect for the Gophers’ team and staff.
“They’re the team we love to compete with. It’s awesome to compete with them,” Richardson said.
Minnesota finished as the Big Ten runner-up for the ninth time in 15 years, but there wasn’t much the team could do about it. Michigan’s lineup featured swimmers like Jennie Eberwein, who won three events over the weekend and was named Swimmer of the Meet on Saturday night.
Although Michigan won, many of the Gophers’ swimmers turned in impressive times. In particular, Katy Christofferson swam a scorching 400-yard individual medley Friday to take home Minnesota’s first individual swimming championship of the meet.
“That came from the training trip,” an excited Christofferson said. “I’ve never felt that good, if you want to call it that.”
Second-year diving coach Kongzheng Li got some spectacular results from transfer T.D. Rowe, who won the 1-meter diving competition on Thursday night, then came back to win Friday’s 3-meter competition. Rowe’s efforts won her Diver of the Meet honors, and Big Ten Diver of the Year honors. Li was named Diving Coach of the Year.
A more predictable event almost turned sour for Minnesota. Gretchen Hegener, last year’s Big Ten champion in both the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke, struggled in the second half of the 100, but edged out Amy Balcerzak of Northwestern by .05 seconds. Hegener won the 200 by a far more comfortable margin of nearly two seconds.
Jenny Hennen had a busy weekend for Minnesota. Hennen swam in a total of six event finals, finishing as high as second in two relays and fourth in two individual events. But don’t be fooled by her lack of first-lace finishes — Hennen was fast. She broke the school record for the 100-yard freestyle in preliminary rounds, then re-broke it in the final, with a time of 50.28.
The 200 backstroke provided much-needed points for Minnesota. Emily Deppe and Ann Cahoy, who have finished close all year, combined for a 3-4 finish, respectively, on Saturday.
On a down note for Minnesota, Olga Splichalova struggled through the 1,650-yard freestyle, and might not be able to compete in the NCAA Championships. Freeman said Splichalova’s status will be evaluated today.
Also in that race, Kim Wilson ended her highly successful swimming career in the Big Ten. Wilson fell back as far as sixth in the race, but swam faster than all the other swimmers in the race over the last 200 yards to finish second.
Even after the meet was over, Minnesota was swimming fast. Members of the 200 medley relay team wanted to qualify for NCAA Championships, so they swam a time trial after the meet. They had to be pleased with the results: a school-record time of 1:41.58 and a berth in the NCAA Championships.
Junior Ada Simakova, a possible captain for next year, was impressed with the way the meet went.
“It’s amazing how everyone dropped times,” Simakova said. “I really want to thank the coaches. They’ve been great.”