Chantal Nack started her college swimming career with modest expectations. As a freshman, the Mankato native wanted to enjoy competing with the Gophers, train alongside her sister, Danielle, and see how much she could improve.
“If you had told me even at the beginning of my senior year that I’d be a Big Ten champion, I wouldn’t have believed you,” she said. “The way everything has turned out, it’s been incredible.”
That senior season reaches its zenith this week, as Nack leads the 18th-ranked Gophers into the NCAA women’s swimming and diving championships in Austin, Texas. After placing 63rd in the 500-yard freestyle in her first Big Ten Championships, she won that event in her final conference meet last month, finishing in 4 minutes, 36.55 seconds.
The Gophers are looking to finish in the top 10 at the NCAA meet for the fifth time in the past seven years. Nack is seeded No. 5 in the 500 free, No. 6 in the 200 back and No. 8 in the 200 free, and she will also swim the 400 and 800 free relays in a four-day meet that begins Wednesday.
The Gophers’ contingent of eight swimmers and two divers also includes Sarah Bacon, the defending NCAA champion in 1-meter diving and Big Ten champ in 3-meter.
“I wasn’t a big recruit by any means,” said Nack, a team captain for the past two seasons.
“I’m just a southern Minnesota girl who wanted to swim in her home state.
“Coming in as a freshman, I didn’t know where I would end up. But I feel like my four years here have changed my life.”
During her days at Mankato West, Nack won seven state prep titles and two All-America honors. She was named the Gophers’ most improved swimmer in each of her first two seasons, working her way up to become one of the team’s top performers.
The Nack sisters helped set school records in the 400 and 800 free relays last season, giving Chantal the proud distinction of seeing her name alongside Danielle’s on the records board at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center. Chantal also set Gophers records this season in the 200 free (1:43.16) and 200 back (1:51.42), joining Danielle, who completed her eligibility last year, as the holder of two individual school marks.
In the 500 free final at the Big Ten meet, Nack started slowly, then got into a rhythm and picked up speed — mirroring the story of her Gophers career.
She said it was “very cool” to look up at the scoreboard to see a “1” next to her name and her team in a high position, a feeling she will do her best to replicate this weekend.
“It’s my last meet as a Gopher, and I want to enjoy it,” she said. “It’s been a really special year.’’