Gophersports.com caught up with women's swim coaches Terry Nieszner and Kelly Kremer to preview the 2009-10 season. Minnesota begins with the Alumni Meet on Oct. 2, while beginning the season on Oct. 30 at Wisconsin.
On 11 returning NCAA competitors
Terry Nieszner: We have 11 returners from NCAA and I think there’s just a level of experience at being at that meet. I think we’ve had a few of them just getting to that meet was an accomplishment. Now that they’ve been there, they not only want to be at that meet, but be a scorer at the national level. I think this summer with Ashley Steenvoorden at World Champ Trials and a big group of them going to the U.S. Open that they raised the level of their competitiveness. I wouldn’t say they are comfortable at that level, but certainly confident that they belong there and they’re going to make an impression. That’s what the seniors that we graduated last year where they started as freshmen. We got them to the NCAAs their freshman year, but it was more like they got there and it was ‘now what do we do’, where we believe this group of 11 is at that level right now to start this year. They’re not only going to get to NCAAs, but they’re going to make a difference when they get there.
On the summer training
Kelly Kremer: We always have a nice group that tends to stay in the summer and it could be swimming that keeps them in town or classes and internships. We end up generally having a really nice group here in the summer and they work really well together. Both the women’s and men’s teams help each other to not only use their summers to stay in shape, but to use their summers to grow as athletes. This summer’s a perfect example of their goals that weren’t to get prepared for the next college season, their goals were relative to what was happening this summer with U.S. Open, World Championship Trials. That should carry over very well to this fall because they’re better athletes now than when we finished NCAAs last March. That’s really exciting. That’s what our newcomers need to latch onto to realize that you’re constantly trying to improve yourself as an athlete not just be a good college swimmer, but in fact be a great athlete that swims year round.”
On the addition of Wenbo Chen to the staff
TN: Obviously with Wenbo coming, its instant national and international recognition to our diving program. That alone brings us to a level that our diving program has never been before. With the transferring of Kelci Bryant, who obviously was on our U.S. Olympic team, again we are just very excited about our diving program, where it's going to go and we think it's going to be great.
KK: As coaches, we talk all the time about being a balanced team. You want to be balanced in all the stroke events, freestyles and in diving you want to be balanced so when you go to meets you contribute there as well. With each event your team continues to be excited no matter what event is coming up and it will be - at least looking into this year - it appears it will be a more balanced team and it's going to be fun to see that balance continue to get better and better as time goes on. Wenbo should really help us contribute a lot to that effort of being more balanced."
On the incoming freshman class
TN: I think there's just an energy and an excitement level with incoming freshmen. It's something that energizes your team. An example is having one of them call right now wanting to know when they can work out, when they can practice, when they can fit that in. That's just I think very typical of this class that's coming in. They know they're coming into a program that's an elite level program. They want to be ready, they want to be prepared and they're taking it serious. I think that's very symbolic of the whole class. There's some leaders in this class. Like Kelly said, until the first few weeks things start to play out, personalities come out, but I think so far what we've seen is just an energy level and a commitment level that's going to bring us forward."
On keeping homegrown kids in Minnesota
TN: We're very happy to keep recruiting some of the best kids in the state. Abby Staats from Winona, Minn., has a lot of history here. Her Uncle Joe played football here at Minnesota. We know that there's a lot of pride coming from Winona, where the football field is called the Paul Giel football field. There's just a lot of history there and there's just a lot of Minnesota pride. I think historically in our program really helps the student athletes just have that little bit of an extra edge, extra pride. We're very happy to have what we believe to be Minnesota's best choice to be freshmen here this year."
On nationally ranked recruits Paige Bradley and Haley Spencer coming here as freshmen
KK: I think every college program is really excited when people who are generally recognized by the sport as being among the top respective students in their given discipline. When they choose your school, it's really good for your program because everybody was tracking them. Everybody knows who they were looking at and when they choose your program that part is really exciting. The careers those two have already had to this point is very exciting, much like our other incoming freshmen. I absolutely love some of Mike Thomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers quotes and one of the things he talks about is the things you're capable of doing don't mean a lot, it's what you're willing to do. I think we're so excited about our newcomers and we're so excited about where they're at now, but at the end of the day it's what they're willing to do will determine really how great their college career and what their swimming career will do from here. Like Terry said, the commitment level that they're already displaying tells us that things should go very well. We're going to keep kind of impressing on the group that you can't be content with what you've done in the past, that you have to be willing to do more now, but those two have really done a great job to this point and we're excited that they're here."
On the sophomore years with a year of experience under their belt
KK: We're so excited coming out of last year. I think through the entire season last year your newcomers come in and you truly don't know exactly what to expect. There are no guarantees in sports and no guarantees in swimming. Anything can happen and I think our freshmen came in and from day one and Terry and I were so pleased and pleasantly surprised maybe at how solid that group was from top to bottom. It was a great class. So committed to being great students athletes, so willing to do whatever they can to improve and their entire season showed that. They're young, they're only going to be sophomores, but it's not a stretch to say already in certain areas they're going to be somewhat leaders of our team and I don't know if we could have sat here twelve months ago and said that. But what a great group and if we can have a similar group like that this year- you know our newcomers can be like that- that's how your team really takes the next step and continues to take the team to higher levels within the NCAAs. We couldn't be more excited about our freshman class last year and we're looking forward to seeing how they continue to develop."
On Ashley Steenvoorden
KK: Ashley's another one that Terry and I couldn't be more proud of her. She was recruited, but not heavily recruited. She was recruited by lots of good programs and we're fortunate she ended up her. She's taken advantage of every opportunity she's had. She went from being a very good swimmer to being one of the best in the world in less than twelve months. To just miss the World Championship team, as painful as that was for her, she came out of that in literally minutes and said time to move on, time to get ready for the next step and it's just made her really start to focus toward the Olympics in 2012. That tells you the kind of person she is. She thinks very big and she knows she's capable of getting there. And again that helps your whole program go up to that next level, I think."
On Jillian Tyler
KK: You couldn't have asked for anything much more. Being second in the country behind only one person who happens to be the best breaststroker in the world in Rebecca Soni is something special. We're as proud as Jill as we can be and we're excited at where she's at and both from a college standpoint and an international standpoint. She's developed the way you hope any swimmer could and would within your program. But just like everyone else on our team now, Jill's going to have to be willing to do even more to take that next step. She’s not the type of person that will look at a field and say 'well now that Rebecca's gone I'm fine.’ She will understand that she needs to do even more if she has hopes of being a national champion or take her swimming to the next level. That's what makes Jill good and what's so exciting about her, that she's not content to sit back and let things happen. She'll make things happen. She's done a great job to this point and she'll keep doing really well for herself."