University of Minnesota women's swimming and diving team returns to action on Oct. 3 with the Alumni Meet and start the conference season against Michigan (Oct. 10) and Michigan State (Oct. 11). Under the helm of co-head coaches, Kelly Kremer and Terry Nieszner, the duo led the Golden Gophers to a Big Ten Championships last season. Minnesota broke 14 school records at the championships and Jillian Tyler was named the Big Ten's freshman of the year. The Gophers sent a school-record 12 swimmers to the NCAA Championships last March and placed 13th overall in the nation. The following is a question and answer session with the coaches as they prepare for the 2008-09 season.
Gophersports.com: Was last year a good stepping stone to where you and your team want to go this year?
Kelly Kremer: “Every year is different. Personalities on your team are different but I think it was good experience for our returners and it lets your new swimmers know where the bar is at. This team is completely different compared to last year’s team. So maybe it is a good stepping stone for setting goals and knowing where this team wants to go but now we need to establish new goals and see what this team wants to accomplish.”
GS: How are this year’s team and last year’s team different?
Terry Nieszner: “I think our sophomore class has just come in so far ahead from last year. We have kids that are training so much better then last year. Confidence wise, I think some of the kids who came in with very little background last year are fitting right in and the kids who did have good background last year are stepping it up even further right now. Our freshman class has raised the bar considerably and our bottom level has dramatically increased.”
GS: Can you talk about your freshman class and the athletes that really stand out?
KK: “The women from New Jersey, Ashley and Kristin (Steenvoorden), they can work and we knew that with their background coming in. They are from a program that really preaches work ethic. They can work and they are going to be people who we will be counting on athletically throughout the season. Hanna Whitehead has really been a surprise for Terry and I in terms of her ability to kick, she is a great kicker. We may have her swim backstroke because she can kick hard back surprisingly very well for a distant swimmer. She is one of our better kickers right now. Marissa (Davies) from Canada has a lot of experience under her belt and she has been really good in the pool right now. Jenna (Lennertz) from Wisconsin can kick also. She was a four time State Champion in the 100 butterfly. She is going to be a surprise.”
GS: Have you decided on your captains yet this year?
TN: “We decided to have our whole senior class as captains because we look at them as a leadership team and this was our first recruiting class. I think it is just a group of strong leaders and we feel that each can contribute in their own way and work together. They are just a wonderful group of student athletes. We didn’t want to alienate anybody. We want them to work together and approach it as a leadership team.”
GS: Talk about the seniors being your first recruiting class and how they have developed over the last three years.
TN: “We started recruiting to turn the program around and that class certainly did it and I think that everyone of them is graduating in four years. It is just a group of very strong students as well as athletes and we are going to miss them.” KK: “We have a reputation for people coming here and getting better and that is one of the things that helps us do a nice job for recruiting but to have everyone in a class with no exceptions, not only improved but by leaps and bounds. That is really special and that is this group. When we went out to talk to these swimmers when they were seniors in high school, their club coaches said about each one of them that they are people you can build a team around and we got lucky and got them all. They are perfect captains because they all were individual people we could build a team around and here they are now still all together. It takes a little luck to get a group like this so we are pretty fortunate." TN: “Another thing, they are all very strong leaders but yet they are corporative and I think that if you are solid in your self, then you can corporate and not compete with leadership and power. I also think that it goes hand in hand with being good students, that they know what they are doing and that they are on track and are not threatened. They have all matured dramatically to. It is just a solid group of young women.”
GS: This year Jillian Tyler had to be on a different tapering schedule to get ready for the Canadian trials. How did she handle it and what can she do this year?
KK: “She handled that great. I don’t think she allowed that to alienate herself from the team. She handled that really well and it wasn’t noticeable for the team. Jill knew what was going on so it was more noticeable for her then the team. I think this year going into the NCAA, she is an NCAA athlete. She is getting ready for the college national championship and that was not the case a year ago. To her, that was just another meet. This year she will be more in touch with her teammates because all of them will have that same feeling.”
GS: You return seniors Stacy Busack and Meredith McCarthy, but lost Roxane Akradi to graduation. Who can step up in the sprint free?
TN: “We are going to miss Roxane since she was part of our sprint frees. But, we have Stacy and Meredith coming back and then we have Kaylee (Jamison) and Megan Radecke and Alison Eggers who now have the experience of their freshman year coming back. Freshman coming in who may make an impact is Melissa Nelson.” KK: “It is a nice group of seniors and obviously Meredith will be up there. We have a number of people who can do a nice job on the sprint relays. We have a whole bunch of people who are going to be on the 400 relay. I know that Jillian (Tyler) wants to try and make the 400 free relay which she can swim a good 100 free. Jenny (Shaughnessy) has been a main stay on the 400 free relay. We have a really nice group of freestylers.”
GS: Would you say that is your strongest and deepest? What is the heart and soul of your team?
KK: “I would say our freestyles. From top to bottom, from our freshman class to our senior class, from the 50 to the 1650, we really have a lot of capable swimmers. When looking at championship teams, you want the heart and soul to be your freestyle groups. Every team needs a solid group of freestylers and we are fortunate to have one.”