U starts strong in Big Tens

David La

The bid to end the reign of No. 9 Michigan as Big Ten champions is underway for No. 14 Minnesota, as Day One of the Big Ten women’s swimming and diving championships at the Aquatic Center ended Thursday night.
In any championship, upstarts and upsets add to the event’s charm. The Gophers are benefiting from a little of both, and will head into the meet’s second day atop the field with a team score of 181.5 and a 15-point lead over second-place Northwestern.
“We really had looked at this being the weakest of the three days,” coach Jean Freeman said. “But the team is turning that around very quickly.”
Freeman has said that depth would be a big factor in Minnesota’s success, and her prediction came true as six swimmers tallied 54 points in the 200 Individual Medley.
Other first-day events included two relays, the 200 freestyle and the 400 medley. A perennial powerhouse in all relays, Michigan was thwarted by No. 12 Northwestern, which captured both events.
The battle for first in the 200 free relay ended with Northwestern and Michigan recording the top two times in the nation this year. The automatic NCAA championship qualifying time made the second-place finish an easier burden to bear for Michigan Coach Jim Richardson.
“I’m like everybody else, I want us to get our hand on the wall first,” Richardson said. “But I was very pleased. I’m already looking ahead to NCAAs.”
Wisconsin’s Ellen Stonebraker took first in the 500 free event, continuing to pace the event in which she set the all-time Big Ten record this season. While the sophomore stood out for the Badgers, Stonebraker said her team might have trouble keeping pace the next two days.
“I don’t know that we have the depth like a Minnesota or Northwestern,” Stonebraker. “But overall I’m very pleased with what our team has done.”
Freeman, meanwhile, was thrilled by the “real good first day” for Minnesota and the third-place finish of freshman Jinny Smedstad in the 500 free event.
“That was beyond any goal time that she had set,” Freeman said. “That started off the evening very well.”
Unfortunately for the Gophers, senior co-captain T.D. Rowe was not able to reprise her role as 1-meter diving champion. The defending Big Ten Diver of the Year was overtaken by freshman Sara Reiling from Indiana. Rowe will defend her 3-meter title Friday evening.
For all that was accomplished on Thursday, Freeman is still looking at pre-meet calculations for what to expect in the coming days of competition — for now. After all, Freeman had thought Thursday would be Minnesota’s weakest.
“Obviously I was wrong the first day,” Freeman said. “And I’d just as soon continue to be wrong if it heads in this direction.”