Pressure doesn’t deter

David La

The relay is almost three-fourths over, the field is tight and the cheers of the crowd are bouncing off the walls.
The swimmer of the anchor leg is about to hit the water, and it’s no time for the squeamish.
This is the life of Gophers senior Luis Lopez; one he embraces and excels in.
“You get to look like the hero almost, even though it’s a whole relay effort,” Lopez said. “You’re just busting your ass in the water and there’s no time to be nervous.”
Lopez is one of the six Minnesota seniors who were looking for their third Big Ten championship last week at Indiana. The team came up short, but Lopez’s performance was not lost on opposing teams.
“Multiple coaches came up to me (at the Big Ten championships) and said, `I wish I had someone like that on my team,'” coach Dennis Dale said of Lopez. “He’s as reliable as all get-out.”
Lopez was again part of what has been Minnesota’s most reliable event the last four years, the 400-freestyle relay. The Gophers won the event in 1997 and 1998 with Lopez swimming the last 100 yards each time.
Last week at Big Tens may have signaled a changing of the guard, however, as Lopez’s roommate freshman Ricardo Dornelas anchored the 400-free relay. Dornelas protested that he was too tired to compete, but Dale still assigned the rookie to swim the final leg.
If this was a test of the precocious freshman, he answered the call. Performing under pressure, Dornelas might have benefited from Lopez’s relaxed demeanor.
“He doesn’t worry about much,” said Dornelas. “He’s a laid-back guy.”
It seems ironic, then, that such a cool and consistent performer like Lopez was a part of Minnesota’s glaring concentration lapse in the 200-freestyle relay at Big Tens.
While the team was disqualified from scoring at Big Tens in the 200-free relay because of an early jump, they posted a time that could have locked up an NCAA berth.
Still, Lopez and the Gophers are again turning up the training intensity as they prepare to make good on their goal of a top-ten NCAA finish.
“After you finish Big Tens it almost seems like you’re ready to quit,” Lopez said. “We’ve been winding down the whole season for Big Tens, and now we have to pick it back up again. That’s where the mental toughness comes in.”
Lopez’s competitive swimming career won’t end at the NCAAs. The senior hopes to compete in the PanAm games in July, and perhaps the 2000 Olympics.
For now, Lopez feels privileged about his role in a very successful four years of Minnesota swimming.
“It’s nice to know what we have contributed to the team,” Lopez said. “It’s always nice to make a mark.”
ù Minnesota was scheduled to swim in the Go-pher-It Invitational on Mar. 7 at the Aquatic Center, which was on the schedule primarily as a last chance to qualify or record better times for NCAAs. But Dale has deemed both unnecessary.
“We decided to stay put with our times,” Dale said. “We were going to host (the invite) if any school was dependent upon it, but no one else is.”