Minnesota’s men’s swimming and diving team had one goal heading into the NCAA Championships over the weekend: a team finish in the top 10.
When it was time for the final event of the championships on Saturday night in Long Island, N.Y., the Gophers had that goal within their grasp.
The 400-meter freestyle relay was one of Minnesota’s strongest events heading into the weekend, and the team turned to that strength to close out the championships.
The relay team of Mario Delac, Neil Osten, Terry Silkaitis and Igor Cerensek delivered with a school-record time of 3:14.01, enough for fifth place, All-America honors, and, most importantly, a spot in the top 10.
The finish gave the Gophers a total of 130 team points and solidified a ninth-place finish. Auburn captured the title with 634 points, followed by Stanford (377.5), Texas (374), Arizona (322) and Michigan (271) in the top five.
Gophers coach Dennis Dale said the performance by the 400 free relay wasn’t unexpected, but a last minute change in the team’s lineup made the finish more impressive. After qualifying in the afternoon, sophomore Adam Mitchell was replaced with Osten.
“It was a tough decision,” Dale said. “But the team really performed solidly. Every member really swam strong.”
Despite being replaced in the final event, Mitchell was one of the bright spots for the Gophers.
In his first NCAA Championships, Mitchell earned All-America honors in two individual events.
Mitchell placed seventh in the 200-meter individual medley with a time of 1:59.34. He followed it up by posting a time of 4:15.65 in the 400-meter individual medley, good for another seventh-place finish.
“I had a goal of reaching the top eight, but I didn’t expect two,” Mitchell said. “Just being in heats with world record holders got me really psyched up.”
Dale said he was thrilled with the sophomore’s performance, but noted that he wasn’t the only one impressed.
“The coach from Northwestern called him the most improved swimmer in America,” Dale said. “And I had over a dozen more coaches outside of the Big Ten telling me how impressive he was.”
Silkaitis also earned individual All-American honors by finishing eighth in the 100-meter freestyle. Silkaitis earned All-American honorable mention by finishing 15th in the 200-meter freestyle.
But Silkaitis’ value to the team went beyond his individual success. He provided experience and leadership to Minnesota’s four scoring relay teams, which featured five swimmers who had never swam in a NCAA Championships.
The Gophers 200- and 800-meter freestyle relay teams both earned All-American honors.
The 200 relay team of Delac, Silkaitis, Cerensek and Ales Volcansek finished fifth with a time of 1:27.22. The 800 team of Mitchell, Silkaitis, Cerensek and Sean McCaffrey captured eighth with a time of 7:12.83.
The final scoring relay was in the 200-meter medley. Volcansek, Osten, Silkaitis and Sean Kelly finished 14th with a time of 1:39.00.
Other highlights for the Gophers included All-America honorable mention finishes by freshman Delac and sophomore Travis Beckerle.
Delac finished 13th in the 100 free with a time of 48.61. Beckerle posted a time of 15:09.94 in the 1500-meter free, good for 12th.
Dale said he was excited about the Gophers’ finish, and impressed with the performance of Minnesota’s young swimmers.
“Those guys really performed well throughout the meet,” he said. “They didn’t have any experience, but they really swam like they did.”
Men’s track places second
Minnesota’s men’s track and field team finished second at the Raleigh Relays hosted by North Carolina State over the weekend.
Distance runners Will McComb and Andrew Carlson both provisionally qualified for the NCAA Midwest Region Championships in the 5,000-meter run. McComb placed second with a time of 13:56.55. Carlson was third with a time of 14:05.89.
The Gophers also won the 4×800 meter relay in a time of 7:29.66.