Minnesota to host and compete in NCAA championships

The Gophers will send ten swimmers to compete for a championship.

Krista Theis

The Minnesota women’s swimming and diving team is gearing up for its final competition of the season.

The Gophers are hosting the 2007 NCAA Championships this Thursday through Saturday with preliminaries starting at 11 a.m. each day and finals scheduled for 7 p.m. All events will be held at the University Aquatic Center.

Ten Gopher swimmers will be participating in the three-day event, many of which have previous NCAA experience.

This year’s team consists of freshman Deidre DeWall; sophomores Stacy Busack, Erin Holtmeyer, Christine Jennings, Yuen Kobayashi, Meredith McCarthy and Jenny Shaughnessy; junior Roxane Akradi; and seniors Erika Bjorkland and Jenny Hasling.

Of those 10, seven are making their second appearance and co-head coach Kelly Kremer said he thinks that the women’s experience will be beneficial.

“It’s kind of different this year because we were a really young team last year,” Kremer said. “Their experience should help our entire NCAA team to keep things in perspective and have a better competition.”

Co-head coach Terry Nieszner said Minnesota has a great representation of Minnesota’s athletes competing this weekend but stresses that the NCAA swimmers wouldn’t be where they are without the help of their teammates.

“The only way we have gotten here is with the entire team and with the help of the teammates who aren’t here,” she said. “So, they really are the representatives of our entire team and I think we have a great cross-section of personalities and classes.”

Both coaches and swimmers said they are excited to host the national championship this year.

“It’s nice to have a meet like this at your home pool because I think your fan base is a little bit bigger,” Kremer said. “The athletes are a little more familiar with everything around them too, so it takes away some of the anxiety that exists when you’re on the road.”

Hasling agreed that being in the pool the Gophers use for training is a positive aspect.

And because only the top teams and individual athletes qualify for the NCAA Championship meet, the Gophers are going up against the highest caliber of competition they’ve seen all year.

The championship is Minnesota’s last opportunity to see if its long season has paid off, and although expectations are high, Hasling explained that her teammates seem more excited than nervous for the meet.

Hasling said she is looking forward to watching her teammates race at their full potential this weekend.

“I think there will be a lot of surprises,” she said. “Four of these girls haven’t tapered for a meet yet, so in that sense it’ll be exciting to see them fully tapered now.”

The Gophers qualified for the NCAAs in 10 individual events and three relays. Nieszner said she thinks every swimmer who qualified individually has a shot to do something great, but three athletes – Shaughnessy, Kobayashi and Jennings – will shine this weekend.

Shaughnessy will enter the NCAA meet with an eighth-best time of 4:13.44 in the 200-yard individual medley.

Kobayashi currently holds the third-fastest time in the 1,650-yard freestyle with a time of 16:08.59. She clocked that time when she took first in the event at the Big Ten Championships last month. Kobayashi will also be competing in the 500-yard freestyle, ranked 12th with her time of 4:44.31.

Jennings’ 500-yard freestyle time of 4:43.74 that she recorded when she won the event at Big Ten gives her the 10th spot going into the meet.

Minnesota’s three relays are also ranked in the top 20. The 800-yard freestyle relay of Kobayashi, Shaughnessy, McCarthy and Jennings is seeded 11th with 7:11.87.

Busack, Hasling, Holtmeyer and Akradi are ranked 14th with their time of 1:31.12 in the 200-yard freestyle relay.

Minnesota’s medley relay is ranked 16th, looking to touch out its previous time of 1:40.54.

The end of the women’s season is here, and though Neiszner thinks the Gophers are ready, competition is going to be the toughest they’ve seen.

“It’s the best of the best.” she said.