Men’s swimming recruits have big hole to shore up

by Ryan Schuster

The Gophers men’s swimming and diving team has signed four new recruits this spring.
Minnesota signed two swimmers and two divers to try to help replace departing senior swimmers Matt Schlessman, Mitch Henke, senior diver Isaac Bjorklund and swimmer Manolis Lentaris, who left the team to return home to Greece.
Backstroke specialist Jason Smith transferred to Minnesota from Mount Hood Community College in Portland, Ore., and will be eligible to compete this season. Smith swam for two years at Florida before transferring to Mount Hood Community College, where he sat out a year because the college did not have a swimming team.
The Gophers also signed mid-distance freestyle swimmer Ryan Ayers from Lilburn, Ga. Ayers was a Junior National finalist in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events.
“He’s the diamond in the rough,” said Gophers assistant coach Clark Campbell, who assists head coach Dennis Dale with recruiting. “He’s going to be a good swimmer for us.”
Minnesota also inked divers Dan Croaston from Champlin Park High School and Nickolas Seider from Brown Deer, Wis., to national letters of intent.
The incoming recruits will have the unenviable task of replacing the talented quartet of Schlessman, Henke, Bjorklund and Lentaris. During their Gophers careers, Schlessman and Lentaris were All-Americans; Henke was an All-Big Ten performer, and Bjorklund was a Big Ten championship finalist.
“I don’t know if you ever replace a Matt Schlessman or a Mitch Henke, a Manolis (Lentaris) or an Isaac Bjorklund on the diving side,” Campbell said. “We’ve got some holes now, and it’s the job of the people that are returning next year and those that are coming in as freshman to fill in those holes.”
The Gophers will also add freshman Gary Taylor and junior Adam Duey, who redshirted last season, to their active roster.
Minnesota’s four signings during the spring and the three it signed in the fall bring the team’s roster to 36. The Gophers will decide whether or not they will redshirt any of their new recruits when practice begins in October.
During the fall, the team signed Chris Wood from Madison, Wis., Michael Mesenborg from Hubertis, Wis., and Alexandre Massura, a native of Brazil. Wood is a breaststroke specialist, and Mesenborg was the YMCA national champion this year in the 100 butterfly.
Massura was cleared to swim for the Gophers next year after passing both his SAT and Test Of English as a Foreign Language. The Belo Horizonte, Brazil, native signed a national letter of intent to swim with Minnesota a year ago, but he was unable to pass either test and was ruled academically ineligible to compete. Massura competed in the 1996 Olympics for Brazil and swam the second leg of the 4×100-meter freestyle relay team that finished fourth.
Dale says that his new recruiting class could be the best he has had in his 12 years at Minnesota.
“Right now, it has the makings of being our best class of all time,” Dale said. “But you never really know.”
With a strong recruiting class and the expected improvement of the swimmers it already has, Minnesota hopes to win the Big Ten title and place in the Top 10 at the NCAA meet next year. A year ago, the team had the same two goals but was unable to realize either. The Gophers finished second behind Michigan at the conference championship meet and tied for 12th with Nebraska at the national meet in March.
The team is hoping to sign one or two more swimmers before the 1997-98 season begins.