Final meet of semester offers training opportunity for No. 8 men, women

The Gophers will host the Jean Freeman Invite for the first time Friday and Saturday at the University Aquatic Center.

Minnesota's Brandon Hatanaka swims during the 200-yard butterfly against Iowa on Nov. 2  at the University Aquatic Center.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Minnesota’s Brandon Hatanaka swims during the 200-yard butterfly against Iowa on Nov. 2 at the University Aquatic Center.

Megan Ryan

The Gophers swimming and diving team will compete in one final meet this semester before a long stretch of training over winter break.

Minnesota will host the Jean Freeman Invite for the first time Friday and Saturday at the University Aquatic Center.

Four-time Big Ten Coach of the Year Jean Freeman was the women’s coach at Minnesota for 31 years and died of cancer in 2010.

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater used to host the meet, Gophers head men’s and women’s coach Kelly Kremer said.

He said the meet is smaller this year because Minnesota didn’t find out it was hosting until too late and other schools made plans to compete elsewhere. In the past, the meet was heavily attended by Division I, II and III teams in the area.

Kremer said he expects to see mostly lower-division teams local to Minnesota and surrounding states. He said that next year, when the Gophers have more time to prepare, the meet will return to its larger format.

This year, the meet falls during a gap in the teams’ schedules, making it ideal for training.

“We’re really using it more as training than anything else,” Kremer said. “We’re not going to do anything fancy for it. But we’ll compete in it.”

The Gophers last competed Nov. 9-11 in USA Swimming’s Minneapolis Grand Prix. Their next meet isn’t until Jan. 12 when the teams travel to Hawaii.

Kremer said he expects a meet similar to the Minnesota Challenge hosted in February. He said there won’t be preliminary rounds and team scores may not be counted.

While the meet will be pretty low key, sophomore Brandon Hatanaka said it won’t change the teams’ approach.

“We’ll just treat it as another opportunity to race,” Hatanaka said. “We still have to perform at our best. Even if we may not know the competition well, we still just treat it as if it was a Grand Prix swim.”

The Gophers’ divers have had even more time without competition.

The divers last competed against Iowa on Nov. 2. After the Jean Freeman Invite, they won’t compete again until Jan. 25 against North Dakota, Grunawalt said.

“We’ve been practicing for so long,” senior Katie Grunawalt said. “We’re ready to do a competition again.”

While her teammates are itching to return to the boards, Grunawalt said it’s been challenging to prepare for the smaller meet.

“I think not as many [Division] I schools are coming,” Grunawalt said. “So that makes it a little bit more difficult to get it going, get nervous, without as high of a competition as the Big Ten.”

But Grunawalt said all the divers are still mentally prepared to compete, regardless of their opponents.

The men’s team is currently ranked No. 8 in the nation in the latest College Swim Coaches Association of America poll. The women are also ranked No. 8.