Gophers’ youth leads group at NCAAs

Minnesota wants to improve on last year’s 18th-place NCAA finish.

Minnesota's Derek Toomey swims in the men's 100-yard breaststroke during the Minnesota Challenge on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, at the University Aquatic Center.

Daily File Photo, Ichigo Takikawa

Minnesota’s Derek Toomey swims in the men’s 100-yard breaststroke during the Minnesota Challenge on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, at the University Aquatic Center.

David Nelson

It’s a youth movement on the Gophers men’s swimming and diving team.

This weekend, six of nine athletes competing at the NCAA meet will be swimming or diving in their first collegiate finals. Though freshmen make up two-thirds of the team, head coach Kelly Kremer said he isn’t concerned.

“I really like the fact that we’re taking [six] young men,” Kremer said. “They may be freshmen in college, but they’re seasoned swimmers and divers.”

Gophers senior Derek Toomey, returning to the NCAA meet for the fourth consecutive time, said he feels the youth on the team shows that the program is headed in the right direction.

“That means when these six freshmen are seniors … they’re going to be doing really well,” Toomey said.

While the team is filled with youth, two of the freshmen didn’t take the usual path to the NCAA meet.

Minnesota freshman swimmer Jakub Maly and freshman diver Matt Barnard aren’t from the United States. Maly hails from Vienna, Austria, which is 4,738 miles away from Minnesota. Barnard’s hometown of Brisbane, Australia, is 8,658 miles from Minneapolis.

Though the athletes are far from home, Barnard said he’s getting settled in his adopted city.

“I didn’t really know what to expect with collegiate sport,” Barnard said. “I think now, two and a half months later, I kind of understand what it’s like, what the team feels like.

“I’m hoping to get my best scores of the season [at the NCAA championships].”

Barnard qualified for the NCAA meet on the final day of the zone championships.

Maly, on the other hand, swam arguably his best meet of the season at the conference meet. He won Big Ten Freshman of the Year three weeks ago at Michigan.

“I think he brings … a level of calm to the rest of the freshmen class,” Kremer said. “He’s not only grown throughout this year, but I think he’s helped people around him grow, too.”

An NCAA rule instituted last year allows the Gophers to bring extra swimmers to participate in relays. This season, Minnesota will be taking four freshmen.

“We took four young men who are really versatile and round out our relays well,” Kremer said. “And a lot of them happen to be freshmen.”

The Gophers will have three swimmers in familiar territory this weekend. Toomey, senior Kyler Van Swol and junior C.J. Smith will all be making a return to the NCAA meet.

Toomey placed in the top eight on the psych sheet in both the 50-yard freestyle and the 100 freestyle.

Toomey won the 50 freestyle title at the Big Ten championships a few weeks ago.

“I was happy with my Big Ten meet, but I know that I still have more in the tank,” Toomey said. “I think, knowing this is my last chance to compete collegiately, I just have to put everything I have out there.”

Van Swol took home his first Big Ten medal a few weeks ago after placing second in the 100 butterfly. Smith finished fourth in the 1,650 freestyle.

After finishing 18th at last year’s NCAA meet, Kremer said they have the talent to move up in the rankings this season.

“We need to be great [in] all six sessions,” Kremer said, “and if we can do that, we’re going to have a heck of a meet.”