Gopher swimmers compete at 2009 U.S. Open

The five-day competition features top collegiate swimmers.

When the University of Minnesota swim team dominated the Speedo Sectional Championships , it came as no surprise. How they would fare against national talent in the 2009 U.S. Open last weekend would be the greater test for the Gophers program. With Olympians Michael Phelps and Aaron Peirsol as current meet record-holders, the U.S. Open features some of the top talent in the nation. That top-level competition is what leads the Gophers menâÄôs head coach Dennis Dale to circle the U.S. Open, which is the final meet of the season, as the main event of the summer for the Minnesota program. âÄúThis is the meet that we had pointed to all year,âÄù Dale said. âÄúIt was the fact that this was the end of the season, and we wanted to be at our best.âÄù At the U.S. Open, senior Alex Wold competed in eight events âÄî five individual and three relay. The decision to compete in so many events was one Dale knew involved some risk. âÄúWe were aware that swimming that many races would probably take a toll on him at the end of the meet, and it did,âÄù Dale said. âÄúI think what we learned here is that when you swim eight races, and that includes the finals, it takes a toll and is something you learn how to do.âÄù Of the five individual events Wold competed in, his top finish was third, which he accomplished twice, in the 400-meter individual medley and the 200 freestyle. Finishing third was something Wold took pride in, especially considering the competition he was facing in the 200 freestyle. âÄúThe two guys who beat me, both are on the national team; theyâÄôre accomplished swimmers,âÄù Wold said. âÄúGetting third was still a pretty big honor for me.âÄù Wold did earn one first-place finish: in the 4×100 freestyle relay. That finish over Arizona club team Tucson Ford is something Dale said is a major stepping stone for the Minnesota program. âÄúItâÄôs really good when you win at this level, and itâÄôs even nicer when you beat some quality teams to do it,âÄù Dale said. âÄúWe had three guys go faster than weâÄôve ever had anyone go in that relay, and they did a really good job.âÄù On the womenâÄôs side, they too saw success in the relay, again against Tucson Ford. The victory came in the 4×200 freestyle relay, with Minnesota winning by nearly one second. WomenâÄôs co-head coach Terry Nieszner believes the success the Minnesota program experienced in the relay in both menâÄôs and womenâÄôs competition stems from the pride of representing Minnesota during national competition. âÄúWeâÄôre team-orientated, and thereâÄôs a lot of pride in [representing] Minnesota within our team at the national level,âÄù Nieszner said. For sophomore Ashley Steenvoorden , swimming at the U.S. Open also provides a chance to scout competition she and the rest of the team will face during the college season. âÄúA lot of the people here at the U.S. Open are in college,âÄù Steenvoorden said. âÄúSo when you go to the NCAAâÄôs or the Big Ten tournament, theyâÄôre going to be there.âÄù Minnesota Aquatics finished second overall at the Open âÄî with Tucson Ford taking the title âÄî and that finish is something Nieszner sees as putting the Gophers in the right direction going into the 2009 college season. âÄúWe were very happy with our performance,âÄù Nieszner said. âÄúAt the national level, for Minnesota to finish second is huge for us.âÄù Gophers swimmers used the Speedo Championships, held in late July, as a chance to get into swimming shape for the U.S. Open. Competing for the Minnesota Aquatics club team, Minnesota swimmers finished first overall at the Speedo Championships, nearly doubling the score of KentuckyâÄôs second-place Wildcat Aquatic s. The success a few weeks ago was not a surprise to Dale or even the most important part of the meet. The point, according to Dale, was to get the swimmers more confidence and training heading into last weekendâÄôs U.S. Open. âÄúWe expected to dominate that meet, and the fact that we did was good,âÄù Dale said. âÄúIt gave them a little shot of confidence, seeing as they put up some very nice times.âÄù Wold was one of the top individual performers at the Speedo Championships, winning three individual and three relay races at the meet. âÄúThe competitionâÄôs definitely more intense at the U.S. Open,âÄù Wold said. âÄúYou have swimmers from all around the nation, where SpeedoâÄôs is more local people.âÄù Wold said that echoing his success in the U.S. Open would not be easy, but with the Gophers finishing second overall, itâÄôs clear that 2009 may see another successful season for Minnesota.