Minnesota’s women’s swimming and diving team earned eight titles at the Minnesota Challenge over the weekend, but that wasn’t the story of the meet.
This meet belonged to senior Jenna Howenstein.
As she prepared to swim the 200-yard butterfly — her final race with the Gophers — Howenstein heard her name called from the Gophers’ bench.
There stood members of the women’s team with their shirts rolled up to reveal the words “Let’s go Jenna!” written in body paint across their stomachs.
“A lot of times before the beginning of your race, it’s tense,” Howenstein said. “But I looked up, and they all were painted and screaming, and … it makes it a little bit easier to go out there and race and know you’re doing it not just for yourself, but for your team, too.”
Howenstein won the race by almost 3.5 seconds. She was reflective after the meet and said she still doesn’t believe her career at Minnesota is over.
“It’s all kind of surreal,” she said. “Nothing has set in for me yet because I still feel like I’m going to get up and go swim on Monday.”
Minnesota rested most of its top-tier swimmers at the Minnesota Challenge, but Gophers head coach Kelly Kremer said the moment before Howenstein jumped into the pool showed the amount of unity his team
“They genuinely care about each other,” he said. “They genuinely want to see each other succeed. This is a tight, close-knit team, and that’s what you really need if you’re going to be successful when the meets get bigger.”
The meets will get bigger for the Gophers in a little more than a week when the University Aquatic Center opens its doors to the Big Ten championships.
Kremer said he limited the number of races the women’s team competed in because the Big Ten meet is in less than 10 days.
Still, fans got a chance to see plenty of the men’s team’s swimmers, including seniors Derek Toomey and Kyler Van Swol and freshman Daryl Turner, who will compete at the men’s Big Ten championships in Ann Arbor, Mich., at the end of the
“This was a good tune-up for them,” Kremer said, “But I think in general, it was a good confidence booster for everyone.”
Toomey, Turner, Van Swol and senior Danny Brebrick all found themselves chasing after first place in the 100-yard freestyle.
Van Swol emerged victorious in the end, but the swimmers were only separated by 0.13 seconds.
“That was definitely my favorite race of the weekend,” Toomey said. “I’m a little bummed Kyler got me by one-hundredth of a second … [but] it was just a fun race to be in.”
Minnesota’s men’s swimming and diving team took home 14 titles in total.