Before the start of the season, outsiders might have labeled Minnesota’s women’s swimming and diving team as “rebuilding.”
After all, the only coach in the program’s 31-year history, Jean Freeman, retired last year after a lengthy and successful career.
And though first-year co-coaches Terry Nieszner and Kelly Kremer had extensive experience working with Minnesota swim teams, it would be natural to expect a rough transition to new coaching styles and philosophies.
But the new coaches and swimmers seem to have adjusted smoothly, as the Gophers have exceeded most expectations to this point.
The team holds a 7-1 record in dual meets and could enter the College Swimming Coaches Association top-25 poll when it comes out Thursday.
“We weren’t really thought of as a powerhouse team, but I think we’re surprising everyone – including ourselves,” junior Bridget McCoy said. “We’re swimming really well, and we’re swimming really fast.”
One person who isn’t surprised with Minnesota’s fast start is Nieszner, who said the team is about where she expected it to be.
“I knew the potential we had,” Nieszner said. “And I knew Kelly and I had the ability and skills to lead this group.”
Possibly the most significant meet for Minnesota this season was last weekend, when it traveled to West Lafayette, Ind., to battle Purdue along with Wisconsin and Illinois.
The Boilermakers were ranked 21st, but the Gophers beat them 192-161 in their own pool.
“We went in there and beat them, and we beat them soundly,” Kremer said. “(Minnesota’s swimmers) did what was necessary to rise to the occasion.”
Leading the way for Minnesota have been Kate Hardt and Katy Coombe, who both qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season. Divers Abby Bowden and Jessica Livingston have also consistently scored points for the Gophers.
Nieszner and Kremer said their recent success as co-coaches has much to do with the comfort level they have with the swimmers from working years in Minnesota’s men’s and women’s swimming programs.
Athletics Director Joel Maturi made a great decision in hiring coaches that will build on the foundation and tradition Freeman left, Nieszner said.
And Nieszner and Kremer are wasting no time following in Freeman’s footsteps, setting high standards for the team from the beginning.
Their goal is to improve on last year’s fifth-place finish in the Big Ten meet and to have at least eight swimmers qualify for the NCAA meet, they said.
Expectations for the coming years are also high, as the coaches said they think the team will continue to move up in the national rankings behind next year’s strong recruiting class.
And maybe soon they’ll be able to rival the success Freeman saw in her later years, when she won Big Ten titles in 1999 and 2000.
Nieszner and Kremer are even talking about national meet goals Freeman reached just once in her 31-year tenure.
“I know Terry and I have both talked about how NCAAs are in our pool in 2007,” Kremer said. “We would like to be a top-10 program that year.”