Growing up in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, 45 minutes from Green Bay, senior Conner McHugh was surrounded by water. Lake Michigan was nearby, and his parents wanted him to be safe around it.
Both of his parents swam in college, and eventually McHugh fell in love with the sport. He started to swim competitively when he was eight years old. He said swimming in high school was very similar to collegiate competition.
"[There was] a little bit less time to do it. I would do morning practices probably twice a week if I could fit those in," McHugh said. "I'd be practicing every night and on the weekends when I didn't have meets. When I came to college, I wasn't really new to it [a difficult schedule]."
McHugh said he wants to leave his mark on the program and make it better for future Gophers.
"When I leave the program, I want to be the best breaststroker that's ever come to this school," McHugh said. "I want to be someone [who] people can look back on and see that I tried to do everything that I could to help this team."
McHugh was named Big Ten Swimmer of the Week on Nov. 8. During Minnesota's quadruple meet against Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin, he finished first in the 100-yard breaststroke. His recorded time of 54.45 was the fifth fastest in the Big Ten this season. He has won all six breaststroke races he has competed in this season.
Head coach Kelly Kremer thinks McHugh is committed to improving as a swimmer and has been a good leader for the team as its captain.
"He has goals in his mind, and he has a desire to do everything he can to reach those goals. That's a huge strength," Kremer said. "He loves the sport, and he's a hard worker. I think that helps the team realize that if you're consistent [and] do the right things, there's success to be found at the end of it."
McHugh was the No. 1 swimming recruit from Wisconsin. He is majoring in business and marketing education with a minor in leadership.
McHugh said he liked Minnesota a lot when coaches recruited him. He said that's one of the reasons why he became a Minnesota swimmer.
"Coming from a small town, I wanted to go to a larger school, and I fell in love with the Twin Cities when I visited before I even went through the recruiting process," he said. "When they offered me a spot on the team, I knew that it was a really good combination of athletics and academics. It [Minnesota] had everything I was looking for."
To prepare for a meet, McHugh eats pasta the night before. He listens to music before he races and tries to enjoy meets as much as possible.
Junior Nick Plachinski said McHugh does more than help his teammates improve in the pool.
"He's helping get the team together to try and create a better atmosphere when the freshmen come in [and] to connect them to the seniors," Plachinski said. "He's always very focused during meets, always prepping for his events. He'll get up and lead cheers for us."