Silkaitis emerges as one of top swimmers in nation

Sam Campanaro

Big Ten Swimmer of the Year Terry Silkaitis was doing tricks with a hula hoop before on the pool deck at the Aquatic Center on Monday, an odd sight at the last home practice for Minnesota’s men’s swimming and diving team before the NCAA championship meet.

Though Silkaitis was goofing around before practice, his time in the water would not go to waste. His laid-back personality outside the pool doesn’t showcase the hard work he has put in and the achievements he has earned this season.

Silkaitis earned his swimmer of the year honors at the Big Ten meet after winning three individual events and swimming a leg on two championship relay teams.

At the Big Ten meet he swam 1:34.42 in the 200-yard freestyle – the fastest time in the nation.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” Silkaitis said. “It’s scary to have everyone looking at me expecting me to perform.”

The Gophers begin competition today at Texas. With 14 swimmers qualifying for the meet, Minnesota has the third-most competitors behind Auburn’s 18 and Texas and Stanford’s 16. Currently ranked sixth, coach Dennis Dale expects the team to maintain its ranking or place higher.

Silkaitis qualified in three individual events and in four relays. He will only be competing in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events as an individual. He will also compete in all five relays.

“Terry lets his swimming do his talking for him,” Dale said.

It’s probably a good thing Silkaitis does. Through chuckles and hesitation, Dale and his teammates said he was an easy-going and enjoyable person to be around.

Dale and his teammates still heckle Silkaitis for his “reaching stick.” During his freshman year there was a period of time when he was relatively dormant, barely moving around his dorm room and reaching for things with a stick.

Silkaitis admits he’s not the most energetic person outside the pool. He tries to just go with the flow of things.

“I’m not as lazy as they make me out to be,” Silkaits said.

Going into the most important meet of the season, Silkaitis can draw on experience from last year. Already a six-time All-American as a sophomore, he is expected to have another successful venture this year.

Silkaitis will have a full weekend, swimming at least two events each day of the meet.

The Gophers feel like they are ready to perform at the national level. The excitement and pressure that surround the meet are felt by all of the Minnesota competitors.

The Gophers’ expected sixth-place finish would make school history. It would be the fourth year that Minnesota placed top 10 in the nation.

Silkaitis is trying to ignore the hype surrounding his race. He wants to do what he can to help his team place well.

“I’m trying to think about it as any other meet,” Silkaits said.

Hula hoop tricks and all, Silkaitis has the potential to set records for Minnesota and be one of the top swimmers in the nation.