Minnesota swim and dive teams set to start season

Both squads will head to Florida for their first meet this weekend.

Minnesota's Kierra Smith swims the 100-yard butterfly against Iowa State on Oct. 12, 2012, at the University Aquatic Center.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Phot

Minnesota’s Kierra Smith swims the 100-yard butterfly against Iowa State on Oct. 12, 2012, at the University Aquatic Center.

Alyssa Hodenfield

The Minnesota men’s and women’s swim and dive teams will kick off their seasons on Saturday against Florida State and Duke in Tallahassee, Florida.

Head coach Kelly Kremer has high hopes for both teams this season and said he plans to spend more time focusing on details and technique this year.

“I think we have two teams that are better than a year ago. It’s exciting when you’re in that position as a coach,” Kremer said. “There is no question we’re spending a lot more time on details this year. [They’re] little things, but they’re huge in terms of starts and turns and how we’re handling our underwater portion of our swimming. [We’re] making them think a lot more about how we’re doing things as opposed to just doing them.”

A bright spot for the women’s team is the return of senior Kierra Smith, a 2015 NCAA champion breaststroker.

Smith took a season off last year to prepare to compete for Team Canada in August’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Smith competed in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke in Rio. She made it to the final and placed seventh in her best event, the 200.

“I think that influence [of having Olympians on the team] helps a lot. The more experienced your team is, the more it raises the bar for everybody,” Kremer said. “It also makes the big college moments not overwhelming.”

In addition to Smith’s return, the women’s team adds seven freshmen this year, one of whom is a diver. The men’s team has 13 rookies on its roster, 11 swimmers and two divers.

Both teams have fresh faces to add energy and depth to the squad.

“It’s been exciting so far with a big freshman class and how often we’ve been training together,” junior Brooke Zeiger said. “We can compete with each other a lot. It just keeps our group bigger, so we race each other, which is good for all of us.”

Kremer said Zeiger, one of the team’s veterans, should be one to look for this season after a big performance at last year’s NCAA Championships.

Zieger earned All-American status in the 400 IM, 1650 freestyle and 500 freestyle races.

“For this meet, [my goals are] to keep my technique sharp. For season goals, I just want to improve my IM,” Zeiger said. “I feel like I kind of swam that event flat last year, so I hope to improve that over the season.”

Both the men’s and women’s teams also return key divers in seniors Matt Barnard and Yu Zhou.

Barnard was a 2016 All-American after coming in seventh in 3-meter and ninth in platform at the NCAA Championships, and he also won the Big Ten 3-meter title.

Zhou was last year’s Big Ten Diver of the Year and won two All-American awards at the NCAA Championships after finishing second in platform and fifth in 3-meter.

Both teams will have the rare opportunity to swim outdoors this weekend to start the season, a change of pace for the Gophers.

“I like to compete against teams that are going to challenge us, and we do,” Kremer said. “I think starting with those two [Florida] teams and then going right into our Wisconsin meet is a nice start to the year. It sets the tone for the team and lets us know where we’re at.”.