We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs from the 2017 NCAA Championships – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24. Can’t get enough college swimming news? Check out the College Preview issue of SwimSwam Magazine for some inside looks at the life of a college swimmer as told by college swimmers themselves, plus full-length profiles of a few of college swimming’s biggest names, including our cover athlete, Simone Manuel.
#10 MINNESOTA GOPHERS
Key Losses: Kierra Smith (22 NCAA points, 1 NCAA relay)
We’ve tightened up our criteria from last year, where our first stab at a letter grading system got hit by a little bit of classic grade inflation. Again, bear in mind that all of these grades are projections more than 6 months out – and as none of us has a working crystal ball, these projections are very subjective and very likely to change over the course of the season. Disagreeing with specific grades is completely acceptable; furiously lashing out at a writer, commenter or specific athlete is not.
- A = projected to score significant (10+) NCAA points per event
- B = projected to score some (3-10) NCAA points per event
- C = projected on the bubble to score likely only a few (1-2) or no NCAA points per event
- D = projected to score no NCAA points
Kierra Smith returned from her Olympic year redshirt, making for a big 1-2 punch in breaststroke between her and freshman Lindsey Horejsi. They scored in 1 A final each at the NCAA Championships, Smith in the 200 and Horejsi in the 100, while they flip-flopped into B finals, Smith in the 100 and Horejsi in the 200.
Zoe Avestruz‘s transition from backstroker to sprint freestyler was big for the Gophers. She was their medley backstroker as a freshman in 2016, but was nowhere near her impressive high school times. Instead of floundering the rest of her college career or even quitting after a rough season, Avestruz upgraded her sprint free, ultimately helping Minnesota win the 200 medley B1G title with a fiery 21.33 anchor to run down IU. She also finished 3rd in the 100 free at B1Gs and came up for 4th in the 100 back, and stuck to free at NCAAs to anchor both scoring medley relays as well as the scoring 800 free relay.
Tevyn Waddell and Danielle Nack were strong last season for Minnesota as well, Waddell in backstroke and Nack in fly/sprint free, rounding out a nice crop of talent that will be returning this season.
Sprint Free: D+
As mentioned, Avestruz excelled in the sprint free last season. While she was an essential relay piece, she was well off NCAA scoring in the 50 free and scratched the 100 free to focus on the 400 free relay. She could certainly continue to develop into an NCAA scorer, but she’s not quite there yet.
The sprint ranks are slim in Minneapolis, and there’s not a lot of immediate backup coming in with the freshman class. Britt Horn might be their best bet in terms of developing another sprinter, as she has been 50.1 in the 100 free. Still, the sprint free group is relying heavily on Avestruz, as other free relay pieces are primarily focused on other events or strokes.
Distance Free: A-
The freshman class brings in a lot of upside here, as their two best newcomers specialize in distance free. Canadian import Mackenzie Padington is a big land for Minnesota, and with Canadians Smith and Breanne Siwicki graduating, Padington will join junior Lauren Lalumiere as the sole swimmers from North of The Wall.
Padington broke out to qualify for Worlds at Canadian Trials this spring, and she had huge time drops to come in to Minnesota at 55.8/1:58.3/4:09/8:31/16:31 in LCM. Those times are very impressive for an incoming college freshman, and she looks like she might excel at the 200 and 500 most in yards. It would be very helpful for Minnesota if she can be a relay piece in the 400 and 800 free relays, especially in the 400.
Abbey Erwin, meanwhile, has been 16:17 in the mile in yards, and that’s her best event. Minnesota has a rich history in distance free, especially with names like Ashley Steenvoorden, Kiera Janzen and Sam Harding, of late. Padington and Erwin could develop into a dynamic duo in the distance free.
Chantal Nack had a great 2017, posting PRs of 1:46.28 in the 200 free and 4:41.84 in the 500 free. That 500 could be NCAA scoring-worthy for her if she can get under 4:40, while she and sister Danielle were key legs on the 800 free relay last year and will be called upon again this year.
Senior Brooke Zeiger returns as the Big Ten record holder in the 1650 free (15:44.00) and is great in the 500 free, too (4:38). Her 2016-17 season was hampered by illness, but a healthy Zeiger would be a scoring threat in the 500 and 1650 at NCAAs. She posted a PR in the 800 this summer at Worlds Trials, suggesting she’s on the right track to having a standout senior year.
Hello, it’s Zeiger again. She is the second fastest 400 IM’er in Big Ten history (4:02.71), and just like in the distance free, a healthy Zeiger is going to be capable of an A final finish in the 400 IM at NCAAs.
Meanwhile, Padington is also a very strong IM’er (2:14/4:45 LCM), and she could swim an IM event at Big Tens (or even NCAAs) if she translates that into yards well. Erwin, too, is strong in the 400 IM– she’s been 4:16 in yards.
Of course, the three of them are going to have to shift focus towards either IM or distance free, and the freshmen are better in free, which is where they might stay for now.
Danielle Nack was painstakingly close to scoring in the 200 fly at NCAAs last season, going a 1:55.67 and coming within two tenths of making the B final. Nack was one of several Gophers who had a great summer, and she posted new lifetime bests of 58.98 and 2:13.10 in LCM at Worlds Trials. Nack just needs a couple tenths here or there to score in the 200 fly, though she has a bit more to drop if she’s going to score in the 100.
Outside of Nack, though, the cupboards are bare. Tevyn Waddell went 52.7 in the 100 at Big Tens, but she’s their top backstroker, and won’t have much room to focus on fly this season.
Like Nack, Tevyn Waddell had a standout summer, hitting 28.9/1:00.9/2:10.8 in long course backstroke. She had a strong freshman season full of best times, going 51.9/1:54.4 at Big Tens.
Unfortunately for Waddell, while those are strong backstroke times, her 200 is about two seconds off of scoring level, and she’s right on the bubble in the 100.
Avestruz was solid in the 100 back at Big Tens (52.4), but that’s not going to cut it at NCAAs, either. Like in the butterfly, the Gophers are right on the cusp of NCAA scoring, but they’re not quite there yet.
Lindsey Horejsi is perhaps Minnesota’s biggest asset this year, heading into her sophomore year after swimming her way to NCAA runner-up in the 100 breast and a 200 breast B final appearance last season.
She’s a pretty safe bet for another top 5 NCAA performance in the 100, and with further development in the 200, she could make waves in the 200 A final, too. Horejsi is also a great relay piece, and she’ll be the key leg on Minnesota’s medleys this year.
Meanwhile, Rachel Munson (1:00.4/2:11.2) and Kaela Marcus (1:01.3/2:12.0) are very solid behind Horejsi, with Munson not too far off of NCAA scoring in the 100, as it took a 59.81 to score last year.
It was nice to have two dominant breaststrokers on the roster last year, but Lindsey Horejsi will be more than okay on her own without Kierra Smith. The distance group in Minneapolis is going to get much stronger with Padington and Erwin, while Padington has the speed in LCM to potentially develop into a top tier freestyler in yards.
Minnesota is still trying to come back from being de-throned at Big Tens in 2015, and while they’re not going to pose a serious threat to Michigan this year, they’ll make their mark on the 2017 NCAA Champs with several women in position to have very impactful performances.