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'Fearless' tankers aim for record 18th Big Ten title

BY ANNE UIBLE
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 18, 2004

Michigan women’s swimming coach Jim Richardson claims that
this year’s team has something different from all the past
teams he’s coached.

“They are fearless,” Richardson said.
“We’ve changed the entire structure of our program over
the course of the season with new dry-land and water training, and
the team has committed every part of themselves to it.”

This weekend, the Wolverines plan on defending
Richardson’s claim at the Big Ten Championships at the
University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

The meet, which begins today, consists of four days of
competition with trial final sessions everyday.

“Our toughest day of the meet will be Thursday,”
Richardson said. “The 50-yard freestyle event is scheduled
then.

“It is going to be the marquee event of the weekend
because there are going to be 30 swimmers who all finish within .01
of a second apart. You have to swim the perfect race to
win.”

The conference meet will mark Richardson’s 18th appearance
as Michigan’s coach.

Since taking over the program in 1986, he has led the Wolverines
to 13 Big Ten titles, including 12 in a row from 1987 to 1998.

While Richardson has a reputation to live up to, so does the
team. The Wolverines have claimed 17 Big Ten Championships since
1974, tying Wisconsin’s cross country team for the most Big
Ten titles won by a women’s program.

Richardson is hopeful that another team title is just around the
corner, but his primary goal is for his athletes to swim fast and
exhibit the hard work they’ve put in since September.

“When it comes to performance, like other coaches,
I’m greedy,” Richardson said. “I want them all to
swim fast and win. This is a sport where team wins aren’t the
judge. It’s based on how your swimmers do in three days of
championships, and sometimes you don’t get justice. If it was
a for-sure thing, it would be boring.

“That’s why this sport is a challenge.”

The Big Ten team title will be difficult to capture because,
while a vast majority of the teams in the conference have graduated
top swimmers, they have made up losses with incoming freshmen.

Michigan is in the same situation, having lost its entire
“A” relay from last year.

But freshmen Susan Gilliam and Lindsey Smith have filled in well
for the Wolverines.

Gilliam is predicted to have top-10 performances in both the
500-and 1,650-yard freestyle. Smith, who recently qualified for the
2004 Olympic trials in the 200-meter freestyle, is expected to have
standout races in the 100-, 200- and 1,000-yard freestyle
events.

“The freshmen usually have a difficult time getting
situated at their first Big Ten Championship,” Richardson
said. “The toughest part is their ability to dissociate
between sessions.”

Senior captain Sara Johnson — who won the 200-yard
individual medley at the championships last year — described
the excitement of the meet as overwhelming and hard to ignore.

“With all the noise and people, it’s a scary
situation to enter,” Johnson said. “If you don’t
get nervous, there’s something wrong with you.”

Richardson understands all the tough factors present at the
meet, but believes the team is primed for the situation.

“We’re ready,” Richardson said.
“We’ve trained well, we’ve raced well and
we’ve rested well. This team deserves success.”