Riding a three-meet win streak, the No. 21 Michigan women’s swimming team headed to the Big Ten Championships in Minneapolis last Wednesday hoping for some great swims and to compete for a Big Ten title. The stacked conference proved to be a lot for the Wolverines to handle, as they finished sixth behind Minnesota (831.5 points), Indiana (671.5), Penn State (498.5), Ohio State (384) and Purdue (363) with 309 points.
While the Wolverines’ (4-2 Big Ten, 5-4 overall) sixth-place finish doesn’t raise any eyebrows, the incredible number of personal-best times — which Michigan coach Mike Bottom estimated was around 80-90 percent of Michigan’s races — led Bottom to walk away from the meet in high spirits.
“We were really swimming well,” Bottom said. “It was very exciting to watch. Obviously sixth place is not where we want to be in the next few years, but we’re happy with it moving forward.”
The great swims were paced by Michigan’s three school records. The first, coming in the opening 200 medley relay, featured freshman Ali DeLoof, junior Angela Chokran, and seniors Ashley Cohagen and Deirdre Jones. The same quartet teamed up two days later to eclipse the school’s 400 medley relay record, with Chokran also nabbing Laura Hooiveld’s 20-year-old record in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 59.80 seconds a few events later.
For a program that has won 19 Big Ten titles and housed several Olympians in its 39-year history, school records are no easy feat. To get three in one weekend? Well, even Coach Mike Bottom was surprised at that, calling the achievements “crazy.”
“I didn’t expect as many great swims and best times as we got,” Bottom said. “Rewriting school records is always exciting. At one point, this team won 12 Big Ten Championships in a row and these girls are breaking their records. It really says a lot for the future of our program and what this team can do.”
As much as Bottom loves individual achievement, he and his team went to Minneapolis for a Big Ten team championship. With six Big Ten teams in the Top 25, Bottom knew the odds were slim, as the meet was going to feature some of the fastest swimmers in the country. The results displayed just that, as six Big Ten records were broken in the four-day span.
“The conference has moved very fast, and we’re just catching up right now,” said Bottom. “The challenge is that we want to win championships here, so we’ve got a lot of work to do for that to happen.”
That challenge was demonstrated over the weekend, as Michigan’s aforementioned three school records in the 200 medley relay, 400 medley relay, and 100 breast only garnered 3rd-, 5th-, and 3rd- place finishes, respectively. In addition to the records, the Wolverines' numerous personal bests weren’t good enough to move them ahead in the standings.
Putting the meet behind him, Bottom now has his team focused on the NCAA Championship meet, which begins March 21. The two record-setting relays will likely be joined by a number of individual events, as the Wolverines look to improve upon last year’s 31st-place finish. Bottom believes the results of the relays will be a telltale sign of how the team does, but that they need to improve for that sign to be a good one.
Regardless of the results at the NCAA Championship meet, Bottom is proud of what his team accomplished so far. In a season loaded with improvements and adjustments to a first-year coach, the Wolverines transformed into a consistent Top-25 team, putting themselves back on the swimming map for what Bottom thinks will be a very long time.
“We know that we’re on the right track,” Bottom said. “We know that the women are building a culture of excellence, and that’s the base of what we’re working on for the future.”