Gophers hope friendly waters will land top-five

Minnesota finished seventh the last two times it played host to the national meet.

by Matt Anderson

Since Dennis Dale took over as coach of Minnesota’s men’s swimming and diving team, swimming at home for the NCAA Championships has meant success for the Gophers.

Two of the team’s best four NCAA finishes in Dale’s tenure came with the University Aquatic Center serving as host pool. Minnesota placed seventh at home in 1994, then finished seventh again in 2000 at the University Aquatic Center.

When the NCAAs come back to the University today through Saturday, No. 6 Minnesota will look to use home-pool advantage to accomplish something it hasn’t since 1964: finish in the top five.

“We’d have to swim really well,” said sophomore Dan Berve, who will swim in the 200-yard butterfly and the 200-yard medley relay at the NCAAs. “But I think if we all swim great, we could be a topfive team.”

Berve is one of 13 Minnesota swimmers qualified for the championships. Nine of those swimming at the NCAAs have won All-American honors in the past.

After winning the Big Ten title in front of their home crowd, the Gophers swimmers will try to use another round of home cooking to buoy their chances of finishing in the top five.

“It’s nice that we train in this environment,” said senior Justin Mortimer, who qualified for the 500 freestyle, 1,650 freestyle, 400 individual medley and the 800 free relay. “We’re used to the pool, the locker room, the hotel, the restaurants. It makes it more convenient – easier.”

Also working to Minnesota’s advantage this weekend will be the boost gained from its Big Ten finish. The Gophers came from behind in the event’s final relay to oust Indiana from the first position by three points.

Assistant coach Bill Tramel said the Big Ten finish, coupled with a week off from school, put the Gophers in prime position for the NCAA meet.

“It couldn’t have been planned any better,” he said. “We had spring break last week, so we didn’t have to go to class; we could use that extra time to sleep later to get extra rest. We didn’t have to walk across campus to go to any of our classes.”

Minnesota has finished in the top-15 each of the last 12 years and has logged five consecutive top-10 NCAA finishes. But to improve last year’s ninthplace NCAA finish, the Gophers will have to make up time against a talented and deep field of swimmers.

Tramel said that even though he thinks the team has the potential to crack the top five, the quality of the competition means Minnesota will have to swim extremely well to achieve the objective.

“It’s the fastest meet in the world,” Tramel said. “It’s faster than the Olympics if you think about it. You’ve got the elite of the elite from all different nations, everywhere. It’s really good, and we’re looking forward to the competition – some great fast swimming.”