Head men’s swimming coach Dennis Dale knew his program would have to retool quickly after last year’s senior-dominated NCAA swimming and diving championships.
“We have some work to do [for next year],” he said at the time.
At the 2011 meet, Minnesota sent 10 athletes to the championships, of which seven were seniors. This year, only two seniors will compete among the eight in total.
“We’re still a very young team,” Dale said. “So, it’s a question of whether we’re mature enough as a team to make the kind of impression at the NCAA championships that we’d like to make.”
“We know we’re going to score, and we know we’ll put some points on the board. I’m not sure we’ll do as much as we’d all like to do.”
The Gophers finished 15th last year, their 20th consecutive top-15 finish. The team posted 91 points and all 10 participants earned All-American honors.
One young swimmer who could have an impact is freshman CJ Smith, who will make his NCAA debut in the both the 500- and 1,650-meter freestyle.
Smith is the lone Gophers freshman and only Minnesota distance swimmer qualified for the championships.
“It’s an accomplishment … but I’m also taking it as a good experience because we hope to be up there with the top teams in a couple years,” Smith said.
The Gophers relay team of senior Zach Bolin, juniors Hrvoje Capan and Ben Griggs and sophomore Derek Toomey will swim the 400 freestyle relay. Each will also individually swim the 50 and 100 freestyles. Bolin and Capan also qualified in the 200 freestyle.
“Ever since the first couple meets of the year … [we’ve been] working off each other,” Toomey said. “Just being together, training together, being in meets together brings us together more as a family.”
Both Bolin and Toomey were a part of last year’s scoring 200 and 400 freestyle relays at the NCAA meet along with Michael Richards and Curt Carlson. Bolin contributed to the 15th-place 400 medley relay and Toomey did likewise in the 800 freestyle relay.
Kyler Van Swol earned those same 15th-place relay finishes last year. This year, he will compete in the 100 and 200 butterflies.
For diving, senior Kristoffer Jorgensen and junior Mikey Ross will compete in one-meter and three-meter springboard as well as platform.
Richards was one of the seniors who made a big impact at last year’s meet and said there’s reason for optimism for the future of the team, even if they struggle this year with youth.
“We do have a lot of young talent, which will be fun to watch,” Richards said. “I don’t know exactly how these guys will do this year, but I know that in the coming years, there’s a lot of great swimmers. … It will be exciting to see these guys improve a lot.”
The NCAA championships will run Mar. 22-24 in Seattle.
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