Minnesota achieves Big Ten four-peat

Sophomore Yu Zhou was named the Big Ten diver of the championships.

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

Daily File Photo, Ichigo Takikawa

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

Danny Chen

Heading into this weekend, no women’s team in program history had ever won four consecutive conference titles.

But Saturday, the women’s swimming team completed that task at the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion in Columbus, Ohio.

The Gophers finished the four-day Big Ten championships with 618.5 points, 27.5 points more than second-place Indiana and 140 points ahead of third-place Michigan.

Minnesota has now won the Big Ten title seven times.

“You could get lucky once, but that kind of [sustained] success tells you we are doing things the right way,” head coach Kelly Kremer said of his team’s historical accomplishment.

The seniors on the team have now earned a Big Ten championship ring for each year they have been at Minnesota.

Kremer said the senior class has stuck together and committed all the way through.

“It just [speaks] volumes for the type of student-athletes and the type of people they are,” Kremer said. “They have really taken our program to another level. As much fun as this has been, it is also bittersweet because it will be hard to see them go.”

Senior Becca Weiland earned second team All-Big Ten for her performance, in which she placed third in the 200-yard freestyle relay and tied for second in the 50-yard freestyle.

In the 50-free, she broke the Minnesota record twice, and Kremer said she had another outstanding meet at the Big Ten championships.

“Becca’s swimming is just so instrumental to our team’s success,” Kremer said. “It’s not only what she does individually because she is also a part of our sprint relays. Becca has done an amazing job here [at the Big Tens], and she will continue to lead us in the NCAAs.”

For junior Kierra Smith, the Big Ten championships were just another preparation for the NCAA championships.

After finishing fifth in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 1:58.62, she defended her titles in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke events.

In the 100-breast, Smith finished with a time of 59.32.

With the 200-breast, she had a time of 2:05.69, good enough for a new Big Ten record, meet record and pool record.

Smith said swimming in the 200-breast was fun, and her goal for the meet was to get the Big Ten record.

“[Former Gophers swimmer] Haley Spencer set the record her senior year,” Smith said. “And then she went on to take second in the NCAAs. It’s really great to be able to follow in her footsteps. This will give me extra confidence for the NCAAs.”

The swimming team performed well, but on the diving side, sophomore Yu Zhou took the spotlight.

Zhou earned the title of Big Ten Diver of the Championships after taking first in both the 1-meter and 3-meter competitions. She also placed second in platforms.

Zhou said the motivation for her performance was to leave a legacy at Minnesota.

“I wanted to win because I want my name on the wall at [the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center],” Zhou said. “If you are a champion, you will have your name on the wall forever.”

Kremer said the victory was emotional but the team will have to recoup fast for the NCAAs.

“As historic as this [Big Ten championships] was, this team has a chance of doing something more historical, which is finishing top eight in the NCAAs,

Kremer said. “In order to accomplish that, we will have to get back to work on Monday.”