Conference title validates 1996 championship for U swimmers

by Jim Schortemeyer

This year’s Big Ten men’s swimming and diving title was not just rewarding for Minnesota — it also served to validate members of the 1996 team who also beat Michigan.
Two years ago, the Wolverines complained that the reason they lost the title and had their streak of 10 consecutive championships snapped was that they were preparing for the Olympics, and not the Big Ten meet.
“Michigan passed up the Big Tens last year for Olympic trials,” Wolverines coach Jon Urbanchek said of the meet.
The same could not be said this year, making the result sweet revenge for Minnesota in what has become a bitter rivalry.
“It’s really cool to come here and beat Michigan, and beat them fair,” senior Eriek Hulseman said.
Another senior wasn’t concerned with revenge. Jeremy Rients was just thrilled to be finishing off his Big Ten swimming career with a win.
“There’s nothing better than this,” a victory-swim soaked Jeremy Rients said. “This is a great way to end the year.”
Change in the tide
Judging by past Big Ten history, Minnesota might be in for more championships to come.
The Big Ten conference has a streaky history as far as champions are concerned. Indiana won 20 championships in a row from 1961 to 1980, and Michigan won 10 consecutive from 1986 to 1995. Minnesota ended the latter streak, and may be on its way to more. The Gophers are graduating only three of their nine All-Big Ten team members.
Speaking of streaks, senior captain Ty Bathurst finally won the 50-yard freestyle, after placing second two years in a row. Don’t think he didn’t know about it, either.
“I was a little nervous before the race,” Bathurst said.
Bathurst nearly beat the longest-standing school record in the 50 free as well. He swam a 19.80 in the preliminary round, narrowly missing the old record of 19.76. He should have at least one more chance to best the record, at the NCAA championships, March 26-28 in Auburn, Ala.
International connection
Make no mistake about it — this Big Ten Championship had a definite foreign flavor.
Derya Buyukuncu, of Turkey, was the winner of three events for Michigan, while teammate Owen von Richter, from Canada, managed to place in the top eight.
Purdue’s entry in the international crossroads was Vilmos Kovacs, from Hungary, who won the 200-yard breaststroke.
As for Minnesota, it was no coincidence there was a Brazilian flag draping over their bench. Freshman Alex Massura, and sophomore Oscar Godoi both hail from the land of coffee beans and devout soccer fans. Massura said a friend of his had the flag and offered to give it to him for the meet.
The Gophers actually had the most diverse swim team in attendance. Members hail from Israel, Canada and Greece, in addition to Brazil and the United States. All but one Minnesota swimmer from a foreign country finished in the top eight of at least one event.