The Gophers are not among the favorites in the Big Ten men's swimming and diving meet, which opens a four-day run on Wednesday in Iowa City.
Michigan is the four-time defending champion and rated No. 5 nationally by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. Ohio State is No. 8, Indiana No. 9, Wisconsin No. 19, Iowa No. 21 -- then the Gophers at No. 22 -- and Penn St. at No. 24.
But the Gophers are excited, nonetheless. "We gear up for the Big Tens and then, hopefully, the NCAAs as well," said senior CJ Smith, a three-time All-America swimmer.
He was fourth in the 1,650-yard freestyle in the conference meet a year ago and has the Gophers' top times in the 500, 1,000 and 1,650 this season.
The Gophers were fourth in the 2014 conference meet, behind the Wolverines, Indiana and Ohio State. They have won nine Big Ten titles, but none since 2007. They won five the last decade: 2001, '02, '04, '05 and '07.
This season the team was 6-3 in dual meets, 3-1 versus conference opponents.
"As a whole, I think our team is really ready to have a great meet coming up," freshman Conner McHugh said.
Other seniors who could make conference finals this year are Brandon Hatanaka, 10th in the 400 IM last year, and Chris Johnson, 10th in the 200 backstroke.
Junior Manny Pollard is the team's top diver. He was Big Ten diver of the week twice this season. Last year he was third in platform diving in the conference meet, sixth in 1-meter diving and ninth in 3-meter. Classmate Dylan Zoe was seventh in platform.
Sophomore Matt Barnard competed in diving at the NCAAs last seaosn, placing 30th on the 3-meter board and 31st on the 1-meter.
Another junior to watch is Logan Redondo, seventh in the 1,650 freestyle last year.
"Our team is really close," sophomore Ian Gordon said. "In all our swim meets, we've had a lot of energy."
Sophomore Daryl Turner is one of the team's most versatile and talented swimmers. He has the best times in the 50 and 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly. He won four events in several meets.
He was on three relays in the 2014 NCAA meet. At Big Tens, he was 10th in the 100 freestyle and swam on three relays that placed high: the 400 freestyle relay which was fourth, the 200 medley relay, fifth, and the 400 medley relay, sixth.
"For myself, I'm most excited about the 100 free because I really want to go under 43 [seconds] and make NCAAs," Turner said. "For the team, I'm just really, really excited about what we can do in the relays. We come in as underdogs, but I think we can really perform."
Another sophomore to watch is Jakub Maly, the Big Ten freshman of the year last season. He's real strong in the 200 and 400 IMs. He was fifth in the 400 IM in the conference meet a year ago, eighth in the 200 IM and 10th in the 200 breaststroke. He is from Vienna, Austria, and has a lot of international experience.
Nick Orf, another sophomore, finished eight in the 200 butterfly.