No. 15 Minnesota Extends Lead at Big Ten Championships with Two Titles

Go Gophers!
Haley Spencer notched a NCAA automatic qualifying time in the 100 breaststroke Friday night.

Go Gophers!
Haley Spencer notched a NCAA automatic qualifying time in the 100 breaststroke Friday night.
Go Gophers!

Feb. 17, 2012

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The No. 15-ranked Minnesota women's swimming and diving team extended its lead at the 2012 Big Ten Women's Swimming and Diving Championships by 40 points Friday night on the third day of competition after both Hannah Whitehead and Tess Behrens claimed league titles in the 200-yeard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke, respectively, at the University of Iowa Recreation and Wellness Pool.

The Gophers have 456 team points heading into the final day of competition at the Big Ten Championships, followed by Indiana in second place with 416 points and Ohio State with 401 points.

"We approach it as every day we start at zero. So, tomorrow we start over. We start from zero and we just need to put together another day like we have in the past three days," women's head coach Terry Nieszner said following the event. "We need to perform how we are capable of doing, have fun doing it and let the team scores fall where they may."

As a team, Minnesota dropped to second place behind Ohio State through 10 events, but Whitehead claimed the Big Ten Championship title in the 200-yard freestyle with a NCAA provisional qualifying time of 1:45.77 to put the Golden Gophers back on top. Jessica Plant finished third in the event with a NCAA "B" qualifying time of 1:46.07, with Lauren Weis and Ashley Steenvoorden following in fifth and eighth place, respectively, with provisional qualifying times of 1:46.20 and 1:47.62. Kiera Janzen added a 10th-place showing, and another "B" qualifying time, by touching the wall in 1:47.17, with Marissa Davies rounding out the event in 13th place with a provisional time of 1:47.57.

"Hannah, as a senior, winning the 200 free from the outside lane was totally awesome," Nieszner said. "We had four Gophers in that heat, so we pretty much dominated the final heat of the 200 free. Having a senior in the outside lane win it, that was just exhilarating. It certainly pumps up the team and it's just always nice to have a senior finish out their career as a champion."

Behrens secured the Maroon and Gold's second Big Ten Championship title of the night, and third of the event, with a NCAA automatic-qualifying and program-record time of 52.35 in the 100-yard backstroke, while she, Haley Spencer, Rebecca Weiland and Erin Caflisch notched a third-place finish, a NCAA "B" qualifying time and the Gophers' top time this season in the 400 medley relay by clocking in at 3:34.09 in the opening event of the evening. Penn State claimed the title with a pool-record time of 3:33.50, while Wisconsin claimed second-place honors in 3:33.94.

"It is always a little bit more special when a kid from Minnesota becomes a Big Ten champion," Nieszner continued. "Tess broke our school record by almost a second and a half and that was, again, just an awesome performance. The kids that are winning are doing it because the team is behind them, the team is having fun and it truly is a team effort right now, which is what we need to be successful."

Kristen Steenvoorden posted the top time for the Gophers in the 400-yard individual medley in 4:14.56, which gave her a 10th place finish and Minnesota's fastest time of the year. Elizabeth Weitz followed in 12th place in 4:15:52 and Hailey Szews posted a 16th-place finish in a time of 4:16.92, all of which ranked in the top-five for the season.

In the 100 butterfly, Weiland grabbed the top spot, and fastest time of 2011-12 for Minnesota, with her time of 54.08, good for seventh place. Tori Simenec placed ninth with a time of 53.26, while Devin Ste. Marie touched the wall in 55.56 for the Maroon and Gold.

Spencer notched a NCAA automatic qualifying time in the 100-yard breaststroke with a second-place finish of 59.52, touching just behind Wisconsin's Ashley Wanland, who claimed the title in 59.17. Emma Jackson claimed ninth-place honors with a "B" time of 1:01.40, and Heidi Busack finished in 15th place with a provisional time of 1:02.59.

"Haley is obviously a really great national competitor and her specialty is really the 200 breaststroke," Nieszner said. "She is doing great in the sprint breaststroke and is really closing in. She will have a great performance tomorrow and she has been a great team leader and a great competitor so far. She has certainly helped our younger swimmers. Emma Jackson winning the consolation heat and Heidi Busack as a freshman scoring in the 100 breaststroke is because of the breaststroke culture we have created with Jillian (Tyler) winning Nationals last year."

Maggie Keefer closed out the night with a second-place finish in 3 meter diving. Her score of 370.25 was the highest of the season for the Maroon and Gold and was also a NCAA Zone Diving qualifying mark. Katie Grunawalt locked in an eighth-place finish with a score of 297.40 in the A final, while Sarah McCrady rounded out the top-10 with a score of 325.10 in the B final.

The Gophers conclude competition in the Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championships Saturday, with preliminaries set for 11:30 a.m., and finals scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. The schedule of events for the final day of competition is as follows: 200-yard back, 100-yard free, 200-yard breast, 200-yard fly, platform diving and 1650-yard free.

"We are very excited heading into the last day of competition. Like I said earlier, we are starting from zero and we have to do what we have been doing the last three days," Nieszner said. "Everybody needs to step it up and perform at the level that they are capable of. We are nervous, but we are confident. The 1650 is certainly a strong event for us. The 200 breast is Haley Spencer's best event, and in the 200 back, we obviously have good competitors. I also think we will be really strong in the 100 free. We are going to have four divers on platform and we have a very good 400 free relay, so we are looking forward to it. We love to compete. We are prepared for it, and we have the personnel to do the job."

-UM-