Gophers set for Big Ten meet

Jim Schortemeyer

While many people associate late February with signs that winter might be ending soon, it has a different significance for members of the Gophers women’s swimming and diving team: an annual attempt to knock Michigan off the Big Ten throne.
Today through Saturday, Minnesota is in Bloomington, Ind., for the Big Ten Championships.
Of the conference teams in the top 25, No. 10 Minnesota has beaten all of them at least once — except for sixth-ranked Michigan.
The Wolverines have won 11 consecutive championships, and they are the favorites to win a 12th. The Gophers, meanwhile, have finished as the runner-up eight of the last 14 years.
Even Minnesota coach Jean Freeman admitted it will be an uphill battle for the Gophers.
“Michigan is a lot better than us,” Freeman said. “If we were to win, it would have to come at their expense.”
The other ranked teams — Northwestern, Wisconsin and Illinois — might have a chance to play a spoiler role, but none are expected to contend for the championship.
Michigan’s strength comes from its short-distance swimmers. Senior Talor Bendel has 12 Big Ten championships under her belt, and is expected to add to that total this weekend. Sophomore Shannon Shakespeare won five events last year, and is favored to win at least three more this year in the relay events.
But it is far from a hopeless case for Minnesota. The Gophers are returning six of their seven Big Ten champions from last year, and several younger swimmers are expected to help the team.
Freshmen Ann Cahoy and Emily Deppe have dominated the 200-yard backstroke for the Gophers, and are expected to score badly needed points for Minnesota.
“The 200 backstroke is our most improved event from last year,” Freeman said.
Diving will also be a hotly contested area for Minnesota. The Gophers graduated Andrea Berg, a top-eight finisher last year, but junior transfer T.D. Rowe might pick up the slack.
Rowe took fifth on the one- and three-meter diving boards at last year’s Big 12 Championships, when she was with Nebraska. Minnesota coaches are hoping for a strong meet from her.
“She has to be in the top eight, and it would be real nice if she was in the top three,” Freeman said.
Perhaps the most important match-up for Minnesota and Michigan will be in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke. The Wolverines boast the 1996 champion in the 100, Rachel Gustin. The Gophers counter with Gretchen Hegener, Big Ten champion in 100 and 200 breaststroke last year, and national champion in the 200.
Unlike situations in which teams claim not to look ahead to big competitions, the Gophers have had this meet on their minds for quite some time.
“Winning Big Tens has been the team goal since the beginning of the year,” senior captain Kim Wilson said.