Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
The last Gophers' athletic team to win four consecutive titles was the men's tennis team. Way back from 1992-95.
A women's team had never done it. Until Saturday.
The Gophers women's swimming and diving team accomplished that feat at the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion in Columbus, Ohio.
Minnesota took the lead on Day 2, briefly gave it up to Indiana on Saturday, Day 4 during the final session, but prevailed with a robust 618.5 points.
The next four:
2. Indiana, 591
3. Michigan, 478.5
4. Wisconsin, 448
5. Purdue, 388
Three Gophers between them won five individual titles and were named All-Big Ten first team: Kierra Smith, 100- and 200 breastrokes, sophomore Yu Zhou, 1- and 3-meter diving and freshman Brooke Zeiger, 400 IM.
Here's a look at the 13 swimmers or divers who placed fifth or higher in at least one event:
Katy Etterman, Brainerd HS, second in 3-meter diving (333.80), All-Big Ten second team
Kiera Janzen, Cretin-Derham Hall, on third-place 800 freestyle relay
Jessica Plant, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, fourth in 200 freestyle, on third-place 800 freestyle relay and fourth-place 400 freestyle relay
Tori Simenec, from Salem, Oregon, fourth in 200 IM, on third-place 800 freestyle relay, and on fourth-place 200 and 400 medley relays and 400 freestyle relay
Devin Ste. Marie, from Whitby, Ontario, fifth in 200 butterfly
Rebecca Weiland, from Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., tied for second in 50 freestyle (22.13) with Ohio State sprinter, fourth in 100 butterfly, on third-placed 200 freestyle relay, and on on fourth-place 200 and 400 medley relays and 400 freestyle relay; All-Big Ten second team
Blake Zeiger, from Cumberland, R.I., anchored third-place 200 freestyle relay
Comments: Seven seniors filled a lot of the spots on the relays, which all finished third or fourth
Samantha Harding, from Las Cruces, N.M., fourth in 500 and 1,650 freestyles
Kierra Smith, from Kelowna, B.C., won 100 breaststroke (59.32) and 200 breaststroke (2:05.69), which was a Big Ten, meet and pool record, fifth in 200 IM, on fourth-place 200 and 400 medley relays ... She won two breaststroke event for second year in a row.
Lauren Votava, Des Peres, Mo., fourth in 100 freestyle, on third place 200 and 800 frestyle relays and on 4th place 400 freestyle relay
Comments: Smith was someone team could count on for big points in her events
Lexi Tenenbaum, Maple Grove HS, fifth in platform diving
Yu Zhou, from Beijing, won 1-meter diving (365) and, with a pool record total, 3-meter diving (411.55) events and was second in platform diving (371.80). ... Named Diver of the Championships.
Comments: Zhou a budding star on the board.
Danielle Nack, Mankato HS, second in 200 butterfly (1:56.31), on third-place 200 freestyle relay and fourth place 200 and 400 medley relays
Brooke Zieger, from Cumberland, R.I., won the 400 IM (4:03.28), a program record; third in 1,650 freestyle (16:03.94)
Comments: Lots of potential with these two.
* This was the seven conference title overall for the Gophers.
* The conference swimming and diving coaches of the year will be named after the NCAA tournament.
* The NCAA meet will be held March 19-21 in Greensboro, N.C.
* Team was ranked 14th going into Big Ten meet in College Swimming Coaches Association of America's poll, highest of any conference team
* Only events Gophers didn't have someone place in top five were the 100 and 200 backstrokes; top Gophers there were way down, 35th and 31st in preliminaries, respectively.
The Gophers will try to match and surpass last year's 8-0 start today.
Minnesota, ranked No. 12 and 13 in two major softball polls, plays UMass-Lowell (4-4) at 8:30 a.m. in Claremont, Fla. The Rivers Hawks are coming off a 2-0 loss to Missouri-Kansas City and a 9-1 loss to South Dakota State on Saturday.
Then the Gophers play maybe their toughest opponent yet, Central Florida (7-0), at 10:30 a.m.
The Knights have beaten three SEC teams in a row, South Carolina 4-1. Missouri 1-0 and Arkansas 6-1. They have shut out four teams and held three to one run. They have at least two pitchers who are on a roll.
The Gophers (7-0) obviously have talent, too.
And it all starts in the circle with sophomore righthander Sara Groenewegen. She is 4-0 with a 0.61 ERA and recently had a nine-inning stretch over three games in which she gave up no hits.
The Canadian has 40 strikeouts in 23 innings. Almost two per inning. Remember last season she led the NCAA in most strikeouts per a seven-inning game. She had walked only two, given up 10 hits and opponents are hitting .123 off her.
She also can hit a little. She is hitting .476 -- fourth on the team -- but leads the Gophers in homers with two, and it tied for the lead in total bases with 18 and RBI with 10.
Freshman second baseman Danielle Parlich is also swinging a hot bat. She is hitting .632 with 18 total bases and 10 RBI.
Hannah Granger is hitting .500 and Kaitlyn Richardson .522. Both of them are seniors.
Biggest concern for Jessica Allister's club, so far, is finding a solid No. 2 pitcher behind Groenewegen. Both freshman righthander Kylie Stober (4.85 ERA) and junior lefthander Nikki Anderson (5.04) have started games and relieved and struggled.
The last time the Gophers and Houston met on a ballfield, 33 runs were scored. The U beat the Cougars 18-15. Of course, that was March 23, 1987.
Today the two teams meet at 6:30 p.m. in Houston and the over/under for runs would be a lot less if someone was setting it.
Houston is a consensus top 10 team, ranked as high as No. 3 in the land by Baseball America. The Cougars were 48-18 last season, tying a school record for victories. And against nonconference foes, Houston was 27-5.
The Gophers are coming off a 27-24 season. They were 13-11 in the Big Ten, tying for fourth. But coach John Anderson, in his 34th season as the U of M skipper, is optimistic. As he should be, although his club might take some early lumps.
After three games in Houston, the Gophers play four games against Texas, ranked No. 10 by Baseball America.
Anderson has five regulars back, three in the infield, and two of his top three starting pitchers. Closer Dalton Sawyer is switching to starter, so that gives him three promising starters which is as many as a team needs most weekends.
Ben Meyer, a 6-6 senior righty, looks like the ace. He was 4-5 with a 2.39 ERA last season, best on the team. He started 15 games, held batters to a .228 average and struck out 67 in 98 innings.
Dalton Sawyer, a 6-5 junior lefty, comes out of the bullpen to start. He was 6-4 with a 2.62 ERA last season and six saves. He had 42 whiffs in 44.2 innings.
Neal Kunik, a 6-0 senior righty, was 2-2 with a 3.84 ERA. He held batters to a .231 average and didn't give up a single homer in 11 games, five starts, six relief appearances.
They should have a pretty good defense behind them, especially with Mike Handel back at shortstop, Tony Skjefte at third and Connor Schaefbauer at second.
In the outfield, Jordan Smith is back in left and Dan Motl in center.
Schaefbauer hit .287 last season and led the Gophers in runs with 30, hits with 56 and steals with 13 out of 15 attempts.
Skjefte led the team in RBI with 30.
Houston returns six players from its regular lineup, including two .300 hitters. But pitching was the Cougars strength and all its starters are back. The staff ERA was 2.35 last season, which ranked eighth nationally.
Senior Kaitlyn Richardson is playing a new position this season for the Gophers. She's at first base instead of third.
But her hitting ability hasn't changed. She was 9-for-16 last weekend to boost her career average to .400, a nice, gaudy stat.
Minnesota opened the season in a tournament in Las Vegas and went 5-0. This weekend the Gophers are in Florida for four more games, including two on Friday versus Steton University, a team they have never played before.
The Hatters are 3-1 and, so far, also are swinging the bats well. They are hitting .426 with seven homers and 31 RBI and have outscored four opponents 32-4. Their one loss was to Michigan State 3-2.
Sophomore righty Sara Groenewegen and company in the circle for the Gophers will try to quiet the Hatters a bit. She is 3-0 with 28 strikeouts in 16 innings -- that's almost two per inning.
The Gophers are No. 12 in one national poll, No. 13 in another. So they are getting noticed. The last time they broke into the top 10 was way back in 1997 when they were No. 9.
ESPN.com/USA Softball has them at No. 12, USA Today/NFCA at No. 13.
Sophomore Wally Ellenson of the Gophers can jump.
And on Friday he cleared 6-9-1/2 on the first try at the NCAA West Prelims in Fayetteville, Ark. Then he cleared 6-11-1/2 on the first try and 7-1, too.
Then he stopped. So did everyone who made that height. All of them made the NCAA meet June 11-14 in Eugene, Ore.
The top 12 high jumpers advanced, and 11 cleared 7-1.
Ellenson was one of six who did it without a miss up to that height, so he tied for first.
He'll, obviously, have to go higher at Eugene if he wants to duplicate what he did a year ago, an All-America showing with a top eight finish.
Teammate Jon Lehman, a senior captain on the U track and field team also is headed West. He finished fourth in the hammer throw, heaving the hammer 214 feet on his fifth toss. Five of his six throws were over 200 feet, so he was pretty consistent.
This will be his first NCAA meet.
Zach Siegmeier, another senior, tied for sixth in the pole vault on Thursday, earning a spot in the national meet as well.
“We’re certainly happy for Jon and Wally. They’ve both had great seasons for us, and we’re excited about their prospects next month in Eugene,” said Steve Plasencia, director of the Gophers men's track and field program.
“We have one more day to move some guys on, and hopefully we’ll continue the success we’ve had over the first two days of competition.”
Gophers men will be competing in three events on Saturday: discus, 1,500 and 4x400.
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