Indiana looms large at women’s Big Ten championships

The Gophers, at No. 13, are the highest ranked team entering the event, but the Hoosiers are two-time defending champions.

Samuel Gordon

Heading into the four-day whirlwind that is the Big Ten championships, the Minnesota womenâÄôs swimming and diving team has a lot to be optimistic about.

The Gophers are ranked No. 13 in the nation, the highest of any Big Ten school. They boast four defending champions in individual events and one champion relay team. They finished second at the championships a year ago.

But in order to claim the title, the Gophers will have to travel to Bloomington, Ind. and take down the two-time defending Big Ten champion and 14th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers, a task that wonâÄôt be easy.

The Hoosiers have won three of the last four Big Ten championships, including the last two. They have the tools for a three-peat, with three individual defending champions of their own, as well as two championship relay teams.

Despite his teamâÄôs success, Indiana head coach Ray Looze knows this yearâÄôs title wonâÄôt come easily.

âÄúOn paper it looks like Minnesota has the most swimming points, and obviously we know first-hand how tough [No. 20] Purdue and [No. 16] Michigan are,âÄù Looze said.

But if any team can dethrone Coach LoozeâÄôs squad, it just might be the Gophers, and senior Jillian Tyler will be integral to their success.

âÄúI approach [it] like itâÄôs another meet because it is, and I think that kind of helps settle the nerves a little bit going into it,âÄù Tyler said.

âÄúI want to do my part for the team. I would really like to see this team win the championship ring at the end of the season.âÄù

Tyler is a three-time defending Big Ten champion in the 100-yard breaststroke. With a win, sheâÄôd become just the 12th swimmer in conference history to win four consecutive titles and the first since 2007. Tyler was also the 2008 champion in the 200-yard breaststroke.

Junior Ashley Steenvoorden won both distance freestyle events a year ago and is the two-time defending conference champion in the 1,650-yard freestyle. Junior Haley Spencer is looking to repeat in the 200-yard breaststroke. The entire 400 medley relay team of Tyler, Hannah Whitehead, Kaylee Jamison and Alison Eggers returns as well.

Junior Kelci Bryant brings an impressive résumé to the championships. In her sophomore season, Bryant took home both the 1-meter and 3-meter diving titles at the conference meet and went on to claim the NCAA crown in the 3-meter dive. She comes into this yearâÄôs event fresh off of a first-place finish in 1-meter diving at the USA Diving winter championships.

Minnesota has plenty of experience this year, returning 93.7 percent of their scoring from last yearâÄôs event.

âÄúThe team looks great right now,âÄù co-head coach Terry Nieszner said. âÄúI think weâÄôve set ourselves up very well with very successful dual meet seasons.âÄù

âÄúThis team has definitely put in the work, and theyâÄôre ready to kick off the championship season here with the Big Tens in a couple days. WeâÄôre very excited and canâÄôt wait to get started.âÄù