There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2015-16 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players
This week: three Gopher swimmers — freshman Rachel Munson, junior Daryl Turner, and senior diver Manny Pollard
The MSR recently talked to the U of M’s three Black swimmers in individual interviews at the U of M Aquatic Center as they prepared for the conference championships this month.
As a member of Minnesota’s 200 medley relay team, Rachel Munson last week finished with an NCAA-A cut time of 1:37.27, won a silver medal last Wednesday on the opening day of the Big Ten women’s championships, and will compete in the NCAAs next month. Munson twice this season earned Big Ten freshman of the week honors, had a personal record of 2:11.20 in the 200 breaststroke in the title meet, and was selected All Big Ten second team.
The first-year swimmer points out that she thought it would be a bit more difficult than it turned out to be. “I think I adjusted fairly well. I was expecting it to be a lot harder, so I adjusted it well,” says the Shorewood, Wisconsin native.
“Honestly, I feel I have done well this year compared to how I did in high school. This is a whole lot better.”
As second leg of the Gophers’ medley relays team, Munson says, “I swim the breaststroke. I like being second because there is a lot less pressure than first or fourth — first starts it off, and fourth you have to finish it off and post the final time.” Her goal each time is “to extend our lead and make sure we are competitive with the rest of the field,” explains Munson, who is majoring in biology.
After setting high school state records and a seven-time all-state swimmer, Munson left her home state and chose its border rival. “I really loved this school, the coaches and the team. It was really no comparison,” says Munson on why she selected Minnesota over the University of Wisconsin.
Munson’s “room for improvement” areas include her underwater pull outs, turns and starts — “a lot of technical things” with her coaches. “Every little thing counts here,” she says.
Voted the team’s most improved in 2014-15, junior Daryl Turner wasn’t satisfied with his overall performance last year.
“Last year was like a roller coaster — some highs and many lows,” recalls the Greenwood Village, Colorado native. His goal this year is to “make sure I make the NCAAs and the Big Ten’s in the top three finishes in more than one event.”
Turner helped the Gophers’ 400 medley relay set a time nearly five seconds faster than the rest of the field at last month’s Big Ten Triple Duels and set a season-best in his 100 fly win. “I definitely haven’t peaked yet,” he says.
The business major says he loves the fact that the coaches are counting a lot on him and teammate Manny Pollard, the team’s only Blacks, as well as Rachel Munson, the only Black on the women’s team. “With me, Rachel and Manny, and other Black [collegiate] swimmers [around the country] in a predominately White sport, it’s definitely a good spot for us because we don’t slip back into the crowd.”
As his collegiate career slowly winds down, senior diver Manny Pollard is preparing for life after college. “I can’t believe I will be done with school in a few months,” admits the Troy, New York native, who told the MSR he is looking at a teaching job in China.
“That’s the first thing on my list. I’ll probably stay out there one or two years, maybe three. I’ve been to China twice. That is the only country I’ve been to outside the US.”
But until then, Pollard looks to finish his four-year Gopher career on a higher note than a year ago. “2015 was a rough year for me, and I couldn’t pinpoint why. But things are starting to click now,” he says.
“This year I know I am going to do well, be prepared and ready to go when it’s time. It’s just a feeling I have.”
Says Pollard, a winner of both the one-meter and three-meter springboard events earlier this month at the Minnesota Challenge, “I’m excited to show what I can do in my last year as a Gopher. I’m excited to compete, have fun, and figure out how to compete at my best in competition in the sport that I love.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.