At the beginning of the season, Gophers coach Kelly Kremer wasn’t sure what to expect from a young group of swimmers and divers. He was delighted with where his team ended up Saturday, as the Gophers men finished in 15th place in the team standings at the NCAA championships for their best showing since 2011.
A strong final day lifted the Gophers to 67 points. Three individuals — Conner McHugh, Bowe Becker and Nick Yang — advanced to the championship or consolation finals. McHugh, a senior, finished fourth in the 200 breaststroke in 1:52.00, earning the highest NCAA placing of his career after finishing sixth in the 100 breaststroke Friday. Yang was fifth in platform diving with a personal-best 423.55 points.
Becker, third in the 50 freestyle Thursday, finished 14th in the 100 free in 42.13. The Gophers were 24th in the 400 free relay, and Alan Leblang took 20th in platform diving.
“What a great meet for Bowe,’’ Kremer said. “And I feel very happy for Conner, who had never been in an A final.
“I think our team did a great job. We haven’t been in the top 20 for a long time. To finally break back in, we have a lot to be proud of. This team is moving in the right direction.’’
Throughout the meet, Florida phenom Caeleb Dressel was never without his mandatory accessory: a blue printed bandanna. Dressel clutched it as he walked onto the pool deck, put it on top of his head before races and wrapped it around his wrist afterward.
The bandanna was worn by Dressel’s high school math teacher, Claire McCool, when she underwent chemotherapy for breast cancer in 2016. The two became close during his days at Clay High School in Jacksonville, Fla.
“It’s the most important thing in my life for a physical object,’’ Dressel said. “It’s just nice to carry her with me behind the blocks. She’s with me every race, and she will be until I finish my career.’’
• Dressel was named the Division I swimmer of the year Saturday by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. Indiana’s Ray Looze was named coach of the year, Colin Zeng of Tennessee was diver of the year and Indiana’s Drew Johansen was diving coach of the year.
• North Carolina State won the 400 free relay in a time of 2:44.31, a U.S. and NCAA record.