Freshman McHugh makes early impact

Conner McHugh is a breaststroke specialist for the swim team.

by Sam Kraemer

Kelly Kremer knew he had secured one of the top swimmers in the nation when Conner McHugh committed to the University of Minnesota.

The Gophers head coach kept up with McHugh’s times and progress throughout his high school years, making his decision to recruit him that much

“Swimming is somewhat of an objective sport, so it’s easy to see what people are developing,” he said. “When it was time for us to recruit him, we were ready.”

But it was apparent to him that the addition of the breaststroke specialist would have benefits beyond race times.

Kremer, after his first meeting with McHugh, said he was sure the top prospect would be a great fit in his program.

“What stuck out to me was when we first had an opportunity to interact with him, he’s such a well-balanced, mild-mannered young man, and he seemed mature beyond his years,” Kremer said.

The freshman swam the second-fastest 100-yard breaststroke in Minnesota’s meet against Wisconsin at 56.89 seconds.

And he’s already making an impact on the Gophers men’s swimming program.

“I thought initially and immediately that he’d be a leader for us coming in the door right away,” Kremer said, “and he has been.”

McHugh said he chose Minnesota because the program was the right fit for him. He developed a strong admiration for the school on an unofficial visit after his sophomore year of high school.

“From that point on, it had always been a goal of mine to possibly compete for the Gophers,” McHugh said.

There’s quite the handful of differences between Minneapolis and McHugh’s hometown, Sturgeon Bay, Wis., but he said the transition has been rather seamless.

“I think it’s been a really smooth process, as smooth as it can be,” he said. “I felt like I was a part of the team immediately. Being accepted by my teammates was key.”

And while he’s still a newcomer to the team, McHugh carries himself as a respected leader, visible by his love for the sport, Kremer said.

“When he comes out of the locker room, you can tell he just generally loves the sport of swimming,” Kremer said. “He’s a student of the sport.”

He’s quickly gaining the respect of his teammates, like senior captain CJ Smith.

Smith said he was impressed with McHugh even before he set foot on campus.

“Obviously, we knew Conner was a stud, specifically in the breaststroke races. And we were excited about that,” Smith said.

He added that McHugh brings a humble and modest presence to the team despite being highly talented.

“People say that all the time about certain kids … but he’s really learned to appreciate that success comes with hard work,” Smith said.

It’s that strong work ethic that reminds Kremer why he’s glad McHugh decided to attend Minnesota.

“I’m absolutely thrilled he’s here. From a time standpoint, it’s nice to get fast swimmers. But you have to find the right people that fit in with us and what we’re trying to do. And Conner is that guy. He really believes in Minnesota and this program,” Kremer said.