At this year’s Big Ten Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships, the Golden Gophers automatically qualified their 200-yard medley relay for the NCAA Championships. One by one, each Minnesota relay qualified, with the 400 medley relay setting a school record and earning Big Ten bronze. All five relays will compete in Indianapolis this week.
“It’s really exciting,” Daryl Turner said. “That really relieves a lot of pressure, and we can just focus on performing at NCAAs. It was really cool to get a school record on one of our relays.”
Qualifying for NCAAs on the first night of Big Tens was a change of pace from 2016, when Minnesota did not officially qualify any relays until a 200 free relay time trial at the end of the meet.
“It’s always our goal to send as many people as possible,” Paul Fair said. “Making it, just edging it out last year, was a really good feeling. But obviously you don’t want to put yourself in that situation. This year shows how much stronger we’ve gotten over the year. We made it more easily with multiple relays.”
The past two years have seen the Gophers get back on track in their rich relay tradition. Minnesota had at least one All-American relay per year dating back to 1987 before the relays missed 2015 NCAAs. Returning the relays to the national scene was a motivating factor for the Gophers heading into the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
“Two years ago at the meet we had more divers than swimmers, so it was kind of lonely,” Jakub Maly said. “Last year was a lot of fun watching those guys make it back for the 200 medley. This year it’s even more exciting for me that I’m going to be on one of them. We’ve always been talking about swimming the 800 free relay at NCs. I never did. I always swam it at Big Tens. I could not be more excited, because the 800 free used to be on Saturday, which is kind of rough for me for having a busy schedule with my own individual events. But now starting the meet on Wednesday with the 800 free relay should be a lot of fun.”
Turner, Fair and Maly are seniors, but the Gophers’ other four relay swimmers will be back next season.
“You don’t want to see a lot of seniors on the relays, because they’re going to be gone and you don’t want the team to take that big of a hit,” Fair said. “It’s good to see younger guys stepping up and proving what they can do.”
Junior Conner McHugh holds both breaststroke school records and swims in the medley relays. Sophomore Bowe Becker, Minnesota’s 100 free record holder, was in four relays at Big Tens. Freshmen Tuomas Pokkinen and Nick Saulnier earned spots in the relays during their first year as Gophers. Pokkinen swam on all three freestyle relays and the 400 medley relay at Big Tens.
“It’s a big thing,” Pokkinen said. “I actually didn’t expect to be doing these freestyle relays. …I think Gideon (Louw) started to see my freestyle looking better and better throughout the season.”
All four swimmers who earned All-America honors in the 200 medley relay last year – Turner, McHugh, Fair and Becker – are back for the 2017 NCAA Championships. The Gophers will have five opportunities to add more All-America awards to the program résumé.
Gophers at NCAAs
Becker (50 and 100 free), Maly (400 IM), McHugh (100 and 200 breast) and Eric Sande (100 breast) were all invited to compete in individual events in Indianapolis. Three-time All-American Matt Barnard qualified for all three diving events, while Alan LeBlang will compete in 3-meter and platform on his second trip to the NCAA Championships.
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