Six conference championships in 10 years âÄî no small feat.
With a win at this weekâÄôs Big Ten Championships, the No. 15 Gophers menâÄôs swimming and diving team could accomplish just that and do it in front of a home crowd at the University Aquatic Center.
âÄúDefinitely, for us seniors this year, itâÄôs a great experience. ItâÄôs going to be awesome. This is probably my favorite pool in the United States,âÄù All-American Curt Carlson said.
âÄúItâÄôs just going to be a great time having Big Ten [Championships] here.âÄù
It will be an even better time for Minnesota if it can pull out a victory, and a victory this year is very realistic since the Gophers return 74.5 percent of the points from last yearâÄôs third-place squad.
Senior Michael Richards will look to defend his 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle crowns. With victories, the five-time All-American would become the first Gophers swimmer since 1963 to win both events in back-to-back years.
âÄúThis year IâÄôm at the top again. ItâÄôs kind of like IâÄôve got to make sure IâÄôm covering my bases and IâÄôm prepared for everything so that I can swim as fast I can possibly can,âÄù Richards said. âÄúI know thereâÄôs a lot of guys out there that want to beat me.âÄù
One of those guys is Carlson. The senior finished second in last yearâÄôs 100-yard freestyle, one of the seven events he participated in. His 68 points last year was a team high, and his performance will likely have a strong say in whether or not the Gophers are victorious.
Senior Drew Brown and junior Kris Jorgenson both scored in all three diving events last year. Brown, the Minnesota record holder in the 3-meter will be looking to improve on last yearâÄôs results, which included a third-place finish in the 1-meter and a sixth-place finish in both the 3-meter and platform dives. Jorgenson was seventh in the 1-meter, eighth in the platform, and 11th in the 3-meter dive.
Freshman Kyler Van Swol and senior Kevin Baseheart will lead Minnesota in the butterfly events. Van Swol is seeded sixth in the Big Ten in the 100-yard fly, while Baseheart is seeded eighth in the 200-yard fly.
Sophomores Matt Benecki and Sean Nesheim both have recorded NCAA âÄúBâÄù qualifying times this year in the 500- and 1650-yard freestyle races. Benecki is seeded ninth in the 500 and tenth in the 1650.
Ivan Gutesa will look to best his fourth place finish of a year ago in the 100-yard breaststroke. The senior is seeded fifth in the conference and has also swum an NCAA âÄúBâÄù time in his event.
Despite the new and returning talent on the GophersâÄô roster, a victory in this yearâÄôs championships will not be easy. Michigan is currently ranked No. 9 in the nation, the highest of any Big Ten school. Defending champion Ohio State comes in at No. 11, with Indiana at No. 14, Purdue at No. 20 and Iowa at No. 25.
However, being at home could prove to be a big advantage for Minnesota.
âÄúI think itâÄôs easier not having to travel,âÄù head coach Dennis Dale said. âÄúI think that theyâÄôre focused and theyâÄôre ready to go.âÄù