Minnesota sophomore Haley Spencer captured the national title in the 200-yard breaststroke giving the Golden Gophers their third title at the 2011 NCAA Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships. Minnesota enjoyed its best finish at the national meet finishing in ninth place and scoring the most points at NCAAs in Gopher history with 192.
Spencer, a native of O’Fallon, Mo., burst from the shadow of teammate Jillian Tyler to win the national title with a career-best time of 2 minutes, 6.12 seconds. Tyler, who won the 100 breast crown, finished fourth in 2:06.35 after swimming the top prelim time with a school-record mark of 2:06.01.
Spencer was in fourth place at the final turn and used a great sprint in the final 25 yards in a split of 32.30 seconds to out-touch the field bettering runner-up Texas A&M’s Breeja Larson by six hundreds of a second (2:06.18).
“I didn’t know I’d won,” said a stunned, but elated, Spencer. “In that last 10 yards, I did what I always do. I stuck my head down to go for it.”
“This means so much. To have Jillian to train with, this shows we are a great breaststroke training school.”
Minnesota entered the 2011 NCAA Championships with two NCAA individual champions in Gopher history, Gretchen Hegener (100 breast) and Kelci Bryant (3-meter diving). The Gophers now have five with Bryant (1-meter diving), Tyler (100 breast) and Spencer. Prior to NCAA competition, Chris Curry won an AIAW national title in 3-meter diving in 1981.
“Haley always has a great back half of the race,” said Gopher co-head coach Kelly Kremer. “This isn’t a surprise. Haley has worked really hard all year. What a great way to end the meet!”
The Gophers also scored two swimmers in the 1,650 free. Junior Ashley Steenvoorden bettered her own school record placing fourth in the event in a time of 1:55:53.80. Steenvoorden led for several lengths midway through the race before Georgia’s Wendy Trott passed her to go on her third straight NCAA title.
Sophomore Loren Brandon added a 14th-place finish in the 1,650 free swimming to All-America Honorable Mention honors in a career-best time of 16:05.91.
In addition to three national champions, the Gophers leave the NCAA Championships with 13 of its 15 competing athletes earning All-America honors.
“This championship is often referred to as the fastest swim meet in the world,” said co-head coach Terry Nieszner. “The Gophers brought a squad here that was prepared and ready to compete. This group made a statement about Minnesota swimming and diving and performed on the biggest stage finishing in the top 10 in the country. Totally awesome!”
Other Gophers competing on Saturday were Lissa Tommerdahl, who was 26th in the 1,650 free (16:15.63); Meagan Radecke 61st in the 100 free (50.66); Kaylee Jamison 36th in the 200 fly (1:58.62), Molly Belk 40th in the 200 fly (1:59.63); Maggie Keefer 22nd in the platform diving (217.65) and the 400 free relay 19th (Hannah Whitehead, Marissa Davies, Alison Eggers, Radecke) in 3:19.79.
California captured the team title with 424 points; the Golden Bears second national title (2009).