Gopher Sports

Terry Ganley

Gopher Sports
Terry Ganley

A Minnesota Treasure

“I grew up in Minneapolis and I think Minnesota is part of who I am. I don’t know exactly how it came about, but I would just say Minnesota is a part of me.”


Those are the words of Terry Ganley who joined the Golden Gophers as a freshman swimmer in the fall of 1973, and has remained on the roster ever since then. This fall, the quick-witted Minnesota’s men’s and women’s associate head swimming and diving coach begins her 40th year of coaching at her alma mater.

She has seen campus buildings named after six of the seven university presidents who have led the school since her arrival as a freshman. She has seen an aquatic center built and named for her own college coach, Jean Freeman. The founding of the women’s athletic department and its merger with the men’s department both occurred while Ganley was on campus.

During that time, Ganley has been part of seven Big Ten team championships, coached dozens of All-Americans and forged lasting bonds with student-athletes and colleagues. She was part of the inaugural Minnesota Aquatics Hall of Fame class in 1984. It is as difficult to imagine Minnesota swimming without Ganley as it is to imagine Ganley without Minnesota swimming.

Seizing an opportunity

Ganley is the youngest of her parents’ six children, all of whom live in Minnesota. In her father’s family of 13, only one didn’t live in Minnesota. Ganley grew up in North Minneapolis and started swimming in the neighborhood pool.

Upon high school graduation, like many of her club teammates, she continued her swimming career at the University of Minnesota. She did not yet sense the future the sport would hold for her. “When I first started, I just wasn’t done swimming yet,” Ganley said. “I thought I’d come and try it. I had no idea. At that time, very few women really even swam beyond high school.”

Newly-named head coach Jean Freeman and her squad did not have lockers during Ganley's first season with the team. They would carry their suits and shampoo around campus in their backpacks. “You didn’t know anything different,” Ganley said. “It’s just kind of the way it was. Obviously there were women who were thinking bigger and wanted to see change. But I think as an 18-year-old, that’s just the way it was. We did what we did and had fun doing it, and we worked hard.”

After selling t-shirts to help fund her trip to the 1974 AIAW national championship meet, Ganley became the U of M’s first female All-American in any sport. She would go on to win three more AIAW All-America accolades.

The final of Ganley’s four All-America honors came on the 200 freestyle relay in 1976, teaming with Cindy Anderson, Cheryl Swanum and Joni Ellis

The final of Ganley’s four All-America honors came on the 200 freestyle relay in 1976, teaming with Cindy Anderson, Cheryl Swanum and Joni Ellis

Ganley with her first All-America award in 1974. She was the first female All-American in any sport.

Ganley with her first All-America award in 1974. She was the first female All-American in any sport.

When I first started, I just wasn’t done swimming yet. I thought I’d come
and try it. I had no idea. At that time, very few women really even swam
beyond high school.
— Terry Ganley

The women’s athletic department officially formed in 1975, and Ganley and her teammates gradually began to experience the impact of Title IX on women’s athletics. At some point they started getting into the Cooke Hall pool after men’s practice was done. “That was kind of a big deal,” Ganley said. No matter what the team’s budget or pool situation was, Ganley had looked at the opportunity that was there and made the most of it. She had success in the pool, and developed friendships she still maintains today. She was still hooked on swimming.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

Freeman wanted to keep her star swimmer as part of the program after she graduated with a degree in physical education in 1977. Ganley’s coaching career began on a part-time basis. She would spend most of her workday as secretary for the women’s swimming and diving and gymnastics teams, a new position at the U. In the afternoon, she would be able to coach. 

“I think you had to be 75 percent on one payroll to get benefits, so I was actually 75 percent secretary and 25 percent coach,” Ganley said. 

On meet days, she would carry a typewriter down to the pool from the office in Cooke Hall. She coached for part of the competition, then typed up results during diving. Ganley eventually moved to 75 percent coaching for nine months, and finally to coaching all year. Ganley would coach under Freeman for 27 years. 

“She was my club coach and I was good friends with her brother,” Ganley said. “In some sense I think we grew up together. She started coaching when she was injured at like 17, I think. …Looking back, things that I learned from her certainly come to mind. It’s her lifestyle, the way she coached, the way she became involved.”

Freeman did not shy away from getting involved in high-level department discussions that impacted her team, while Ganley did not see that side of the coaching field as her own strength at the time.

“I think for the years we worked together we balanced each other out that way, because I could do the day-to-day coaching and things and allow her the time to do the other things that needed to be done to have a successful program.”

After decades building up the program, the combination of Freeman and Ganley guided the Gopher women to their first Big Ten title in 1999, and a second one the next year. The team’s first conference championship came in its home pool, an aquatic center that opened in 1990 as a major improvement over the aging Cooke Hall.

Spending so much time together, Ganley became well-acquainted with Freeman’s principles as well as her technical swimming knowledge. She valued Freeman’s loyalty to Minnesota and attention to the student-athletes’ “total experience, the development of young men and women.” Those qualities are among the core values that have remained important to Ganley throughout her own career.

“My major one is mutual respect,” she said. “You can’t just expect respect from the athletes without it going both ways. Setting that standard where they know that you respect them. With some of them you have to wait a while to find something to compliment them or acknowledge that they’re doing well. Those little things create a mutual respect, and it has to be sincere. You can’t just throw it out there, because these kids are smart. I always want to treat these student-athletes the way I would want someone to treat my own children.”

Ganley has high standards for student-athletes, but rather than always rigidly enforcing every rule, she tries to “see the human side of it and what these guys are going through on a daily basis.” At the same time, she wants student-athletes to take ownership of their college experience. 1997 Minnesota graduate and current Denver associate head coach Alicia Hicken-Franklin remembers training in a group with two All-Americans who were starting early during an interval drill. She asked Ganley to tell them to leave on time, but she responded: “I don’t want to tell them. You tell them.”

“She’s always been very much not necessarily trying to make your problem go away, but lending an ear and being supportive to give you the confidence that you can solve the problem yourself,” Hicken-Franklin said.  

“Whatever happens or is going on in your life, you dictate your attitude and how you handle situations going forward,” 1999 graduate and current high school coach Beth Shimanski said she learned from Ganley. “It’s that constant positive outlook. You can get through anything.”

“Terry’s a rock,” Gophers men’s and women’s head coach Kelly Kremer said. “She’s really a foundation. When you think of any organization, if it’s going to be really strong, it’s the foundation of it. She is that. She’s the foundation. It doesn’t seem to matter what’s happening in Terry’s life outside of the university or outside the campus. When she’s here, she is an incredible coach, an incredible teacher, an incredible mentor, an incredible colleague to work with.”

Joining forces

The women’s and men’s athletic departments at Minnesota remained separate until 2002. In 2004, Freeman retired and Ganley was named interim head coach. Ganley and Kremer, who had been coaching with the men’s program, were soon named co-head coaches of the women’s team.

“It takes people who want what’s best for this program to succeed in that role,” Kremer said. “Terry and I are not only colleagues but great friends. Nothing’s changed from that standpoint. Titles might be a little bit different, but it’s the same. We both function the best when we’re working together, and that’s the way it’s been and will continue.”

The duo of Ganley and Kremer earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 2006 and led the Gopher women to their third conference championship in 2008. When the men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs merged in 2011, Kremer was named the overall head coach. Ganley continued in her role as women’s head coach, and later her current role as women’s and men’s associate head coach.

Ganley has seen relations between the men’s and women’s teams “ebb and flow” during her 40-plus years on campus. She said the teams were close when she swam because they shared club teams in the summer. After that, there was sometimes tension between the men and women depending on the coaches, or whether one team was more successful at the time. Even when the programs got along, differences between how they operated could create difficulties.

“I think right now it’s the healthiest environment for the student-athletes that probably we’ve ever had,” Ganley said. “There is a mutual respect both ways. I think it comes from the top down. I think they know what’s acceptable and what isn’t. We support each other. We’re one team. We have one goal.”

“Terry’s been instrumental in that,” Kremer said. “She’s a progressive thinker. She wants all these student-athletes to feel the same and to be treated the same and to have the same resources. She’s really done a good job of helping us be a combined team when we need to be.”

Ganley described Dorothy Sheppard, a Minnesota alumna and program supporter for whom the pool is named, as a “forward thinker.” She would describe Freeman, for whom the aquatic center was named in 2014, similarly. Sheppard and Freeman have both passed away, but now people are applying that type of description to Ganley as the carries on their legacy.

Ganley, pictured at the Cooke Hall pool, where her legendary career at the U of M began in 1973.

Ganley, pictured at the Cooke Hall pool, where her legendary career at the U of M began in 1973.

Why she coaches

Division I coaching has become an increasingly demanding job as recruiting rules have changed and college athletics have evolved. Yet Ganley has remained just as motivated to do her job as when she started 40 years ago. She enjoys watching friendships form between student-athletes who may never have crossed paths if not for swimming and diving.

“Working with the young people, seeing them develop,” Ganley said. “Everything from people coming in as a walk-on, theoretically, to getting to the level of scoring at Big Tens or becoming an All-American and scoring at NCAAs. Obviously it’s rewarding when you have people win either a conference championship or win at NCAAs. It’s all very different. I think having people come here and leave with the degrees that they have and seeing them now out in the world being doctors and lawyers and biomedical engineers, it’s rewarding to be a part of that journey in their four years here.” 

The team’s success has certainly helped keep Ganley’s energy level up. In recent years Minnesota swimming and diving became the school’s first women’s team to win four consecutive Big Ten championships, repeating from 2012-15. From 2006 to 2015, the Gophers finished no lower than 13th at the NCAA Championships, including a program-best ninth in 2011. 

More than 100 student-athletes have earned more than 450 All-America certificates during Ganley’s time on staff. Seven female swimmers and divers have won individual national titles. The first two, diver Chris Curry in 1981 and breaststroker Gretchen Hegener in 1997, are Minnesotans like Ganley.

“I think there’s always a little extra sense of pride when they’re a Minnesotagrown athlete,” Ganley said. “At least for me, it means a little extra when you’re representing your home state on the national stage.”

Confirming Ganley’s commitment to a well-rounded student-athlete experience, eight members of the women’s program have won the Big Ten Medal of Honor. At least a dozen women have earned Academic All-Big Ten status in each of Ganley’s 12 years as head coach or associate head coach.

More than the trophies and medals, Ganley’s swimmers consider their lasting relationship with and impact from their coach to be the greatest rewards of their time with her.

“There is rarely a day where I don't think about her, and I've been out of swimming for 13 years,” 2003 graduate Dana (Baum) Hardt said. “Her calm demure, matter-of-fact nature and ability to make you want to be better without saying anything at all lives as part of my consciousness. Alongside the angel on one shoulder and devil on the other, Terry lives somewhere in between.”

Men’s swimming 2012 graduate Nathan Jobe looked forward to Mondays, when he would swim with Ganley’s group due to class schedule conflicts. Not only does he credit her with improving his kick, but he said: “If Terry didn’t believe in me, I wouldn’t be as successful as I am today. She pushed me to achieve goals that I never thought were possible, in the pool and in life.”

Numerous swimmers who trained under Ganley have gone on to start their own coaching careers. Rebecca Weiland, a 2015 graduate, strives to follow Ganley’s example of mutual respect and treating everyone fairly as an assistant coach at St. Cloud State.

“Terry has influenced the way I coach, the way I think about coaching, the way I treat my swimmers,” Weiland said. “Anything I can think of, there’s a little bit of Terry flair to it.”

Oakland assistant coach and 2009 Minnesota alumna Stacy Busack, who was inducted into the Minnesota Aquatics Hall of Fame last fall, credits Ganley for a “profound” impact, and much of what she achieved in the pool. Busack remained with the program as a volunteer assistant after graduation and continued to learn from Ganley.

“I admire her work ethic,” Busack said. “She is tireless. I admire her attention to detail. I certainly admire her professionalism. She’s always thinking about the program, the people in the program, what’s best for everyone. ….I really admire her listening skills.”

Ganley’s influence comes both from what she purposely teaches and from the way she lives. The swimmer who went to college when there were few athletic opportunities for women has become a coach who exemplifies all that women can do in sports now.

“She’s a woman in coaching who coached full-time while she had children,” Hicken-Franklin said. “For me that was an important thing that I wanted to do with my life. …I looked up to her for sure, because I knew that I could do it if she could do it.”

“I just had my first child in June,” 2010 alumna Castina (Wabeke) Wingard said. “I really feel very strongly that I want her to have qualities that Terry has. She is a strong person, a resilient person. She’s always kind, very considerate, so passionate about what she does.”

Golden Moments

Busack and numerous other swimmers who won Big Ten championships under Ganley have memories of their coach placing gold medals around their necks. Certainly no one who was part of a team championship will forget celebrating in the water with the trophy. Other favorite memories come from everyday life at the pool.

“I can still picture her face showing me the stopwatch she timed me on when I broke 23 seconds in the 50 free,” Hardt said. “22.99. She left it on her stopwatch for the rest of NCAAs that year. She must have used a different one to take splits on other races. I love Terry because she made you feel special but almost in a secretive way. Like you were one of few who were special. But it turns out we all were treated that way. More importantly we all felt that way.”

Weiland remembers Ganley simply telling her to have fun before a race her sophomore year. Wingard remembers the way Ganley made swim camps fun instead of stressful. Busack remembers Ganley playing Queen’s “We Are the Champions” on the van stereo when the team was on the road for Big Ten Championships.

“I remember little things,” Kremer said. “Like the first year we were coaching together. It was a challenging year, but I remember being at Ohio State. Terry’s pretty quiet by demeanor. As a coach on deck, she’s very observant and she takes splits, but she’s not a jump up and down and go crazy kind of coach. She’s just not that way. She’s very quiet with her demeanor. But I remember standing next to her at Ohio State and I can’t even tell you what race was going on, but I remember looking down and she was holding—I don’t remember if it was a split sheet or a piece of paper or a program—but she was white-knuckled. I remember thinking, ‘She’s competitive. She wants to win as bad as anybody.’ It doesn’t show, not in the verbal sense. That struck me. …In her way, she is as into it as you can be. It’s those things that stand out about Terry.”

Current senior and fellow Minnesota native Ellen Bloom grew up seeing Ganley on deck at meets and considering her a “superstar.” When Bloom first met her, she thought Ganley was uncommonly serious. That was before she got to know Ganley’s sense of humor. Bloom remembers seeing someone trying to move a whiteboard during morning practice and hearing Ganley ask, “You got a license to drive that?”

“It was like 6 a.m.,” Bloom said. “Nobody was trying to be witty. Most of us were just trying to keep our eyeballs open, and she’s throwing out these one-liners. She was on a roll that morning.”

“Her sarcasm and her lighthearted attitude made practices easier and manageable,” Shimanski said. “She kept it real. She would reality check you. She didn’t want to hear any complaining, but she would just throw zingers back at you and make you laugh and bring you back to, ‘Okay, I can do this. This is why I’m here.’”

“You don’t want to get in a battle of wits with her,” Kremer said. “Certainly not in a battle where you’re doing witty banter back and forth. You’ll lose. I’ve stopped trying. Or if I’m going to try and get the last word in, I’ll say my piece and then run or cover my ears. She’s way too quick.”

Just as Ganley has gained a reputation for her sharp wit, her signature facial expression has also become famous among student-athletes and alumni. She said she doesn’t consciously do it, but everyone on the team can imitate the pursed lips, pushed slightly to one corner of the mouth.

“It’s the Terry Look,” said Weiland. “Whether you’re doing something funny, you’re doing something good, something bad, she gives you the look. It’s like a smirk and her eyes get really small, but it’s like a smile smirk.” 

Bloom said it takes some time to learn the “degrees” of the look to know whether or not “you’re actually in trouble.” She added that a temporary Snapchat filter resembling “the Terry Face” experienced popularity among the team.

‘She’s a Gopher through and through’

Ganley said she has never given serious thought to moving away from the Land of 10,000 Lakes because “family is extremely important, being close to my siblings and the extended family, too.” Ganley’s adult sons, Joseph and Patrick, inherited her Maroon and Gold blood. Both graduated from the University of Minnesota, and Joseph works in the College of Science and Engineering.

“When Joe was in like fourth grade he was doing a geography project and I was working with him,” Ganley said. “He had the Midwest and there was a blank spot. I said, ‘Don’t you have to know Wisconsin?’ He said, ‘Yeah, but I’m not writing that on my paper.’ It’s not like we sat around the dinner table talking about it, but I think it’s loyalty.”

Ganley’s network stretches far beyond her blood relatives. She has 40-plus years’ worth of alumni to follow, on both the men’s and women’s sides. Each year at the Gophers’ alumni meet, there is a long reception line for Ganley. Bloom once saw her at that meet holding two babies with a big group of people trying to talk to her at the same time.

“I kind of lose track of who was here when,” Ganley said. “But it’s definitely very rewarding to see people come back and talk about how much their collegiate experience, both athletically and academically, meant to them, and where they are now. A lot of them, their kids are starting in swimming.”

Whether it’s running into a former diver on the beach during a team training trip to Hawai’i or walking the pool deck alongside an alum who is now coaching, Ganley has the potential to encounter alumni just about anywhere.

“That knowledge and that continuity is priceless,” Kremer said. “She can reach out to anybody. She connects generations of swimmers at Minnesota, generations of former swimmers and divers, generations of coaches. She connects all of us. She’s that bridge between the past, present, future. …She’s a Gopher, through and through.”

Ganley has seen it all in her four decades as a Gopher. Equipment has changed, from sharing warm-ups with other Gopher teams when she was an athlete to the new gear current teams receive each year. Various training fads have come and gone, and come again. While her core principles remain the same, Ganley welcomes new ideas as younger coaches join the staff. She adapts to the different team chemistry and personnel each new year brings. 

“She’s been coaching a long time,” Kremer said. “Terry could pull the, ‘Look, I’ve done this longer than anybody and I know.’ But it never goes that way. She’s so willing to learn and wants to learn and wants to get better all the time. That’s what makes her a great coach.”

Ganley’s accomplishments as both an athlete and a coach could fill a book, but most people are more impressed by who she is. Current and former athletes know they can always come to her if they need help. Kremer calls it an honor to be her friend. Bloom said hanging out with Ganley after graduation is “the ultimate goal.”

“I can come to her with anything,” Bloom said. “I can talk to her about swimming. I can talk to her about life. She’s just a great, understanding person to talk to. She’s invaluable. She’s a national treasure. She's a state treasure. She’s a university treasure.”

Justine Buerkle is an assistant athletic communications director for Gopher Athletics. Contact her at