MINNEAPOLIS, February 24. WILL seven be heaven?
University of Minnesota men's swim coach Dennis Dale is hoping so as his Golden Gophers, defending Big Ten champs, seek their fourth conference crown starting today at their home University Aquatic Center.
Since the facility opened in the mid-1990s, the UAC has served as host for the Big Ten Championships six other times, and the last two meets have resulted in Gopher titles — 1998 and 2001. Minnesota was runner-up to Michigan on the other three occasions the meet was here.
Minnesota is hoping the broad shoulders of senior sprinter Terry Silkaitis, defending Big Ten champ in the 50-100-200 frees, will; help carry them to their second-consecutive crown, but it won't be easy.
Rookie Michigan coach Bob Bowman, even without the services of Michael Phelps (who is serving as a volunteer assistant coach for the Wolverines while attending school there but who is ineligible for collegiate competition due to his professional status), has a strong lineup headed by distance specialist Peter Vanderkaay and his two brothers, plus backstroker Chris deJong (defending Big Ten 200 champ) and potentially high-scoring relays.
Wisconsin has Polish Olympian Adam Mania, a talented backstroker-individual medley specialist, plus medleyist-breaststroker Tim Liebhold, among the national leaders in both IMs.
Northwestern, with All-World sprinter-backstroker Matt Grevers (Big Ten record-holder in the 100 back and No. 2 all-time in the 50-100 frees); along with teammate Mike Alexandrov, a Bulgarian Olympian who's among the national leaders in the IMs and the 200 breaststroke, give Coach Bob Groseth's Wildcats a formidable one-two duo.
Purdue, with all-around performer Louis Paul, and Ohio State also have solid squads that will score respectable points.
Indiana has improved steadily during the tenure of Coach Ray Looze, who is unabashedly proud and reliant on his depth as a ticket to challenge for the conference title, though he has a star capable of standing on top of the awards stand in breaststroker Kevin Swander, last summer’s 100 meter national champ.
"The entire conference top to bottom is loaded with talent," Dale says. "We were fortunate to win last season and having the meet at home is a plus too, but there's a lot of swimming yet to be done and we'll see how things turn out."
The meet runs through Saturday.