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Blue looks to duplicate championship success in Minnesota

BY ANDREW BAUSCHELT
Daily Sports Writer
Published March 22, 2011

When members of the No. 7 Michigan men’s swimming and diving team walk into the University Aquatic Center on the campus of University of Minnesota on Thursday, they may feel like they were just there.

Funny thing is, they were.

A little less than a month removed from the Big Ten Championships, the Wolverines return to Minneapolis for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships.

“The one thing we’re excited about is returning to Minnesota,” Michigan coach Mike Bottom said. “We had some great celebrations in that pool and when those guys walk in there, they’re just going to feel the joy.”

Michigan is sending 11 swimmers, along with a relay alternate, to the three-day championship event. The Wolverines have had great success in the past decades at NCAA's, posting 10 straight top-10 finishes.

Looking back on the conference championships, the Wolverines have a few swimmers who are prominently in the spotlight after Big Ten performances, including two rookies.

Freshman Kyle Whitaker, who was named Rookie of the Big Ten Championships, had a coming-out party of sorts at the event. Whitaker posted wins in both the 200- and 400-yard individual medley events and set himself up for the second seed in both events this weekend.

“Kyle’s got the open door,” Bottom said. “We’ve done the same things we did with him in prepping for Big Tens, so we’re hoping for the best.”

Whitaker is just the latest Wolverine to excel at the 400-yard individual medley, and will look to extend the Michigan winning streak to five in that event. For some freshmen, a tall task like this would be intimidating, but Whitaker thinks he can handle the pressure.

“I feel like the training this year has really paid off,” Whitaker said. “After Big Tens, I talked to coach and we found some places where I could really improve my race, so I’m feeling pretty good about it.”

The other freshman Wolverine swimmer, Sean Ryan, is coming off a spectacular Big Ten Championship after winning both the 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle events. Ryan is seeded sixth in the 1,650-yard race and 11th in the 500-yard race.

The wins were especially big because of the difficulty the Michigan distance swimmers had in the regular season in terms of results. Ryan is joined as a top-10 seed in the 1,650-yard free by teammate Ryan Feeley, a sophomore, who earned a No. 7 seed after his runner-up finish at Big Tens.

In the 500-yard freestyle, two other Wolverine swimmers join Ryan and Feeley. Sophomore Hassaan Abdel Khalik, a 2010 All-American in the event, and junior Dane Vanderkaay, 2011 Big Ten runner-up, will look to continue the recent hot streak for the distance crew.

“Our distance core pretty much got beat up all year,” Bottom said. “Now we’ve got three in the 500-yard free and four in the 1,650-yard free, so we’re really excited.”

Junior Dan Madwed, perhaps the most impressive Wolverine swimmer this season, will swim in three individual events and three relays over the weekend, giving the Wolverines plenty of chances for good showings.

Madwed, the 2010 All-American in the 200-yard butterfly and a Big Ten record holder in the event, is seeded fourth in the event this weekend. He's also seeded 11th in the 200-yard individual medley after his runner-up finish at Big Tens.

In terms of the relays, Madwed made an impression on Bottom by volunteering to swim different events in order to fully compete with three of the four relay teams this weekend.

“The relays are where people who believe in the team step up and show their stuff,” Bottom said. “(Madwed) has actually asked to do different events so he can swim on the relays this year. That’s the kind of team we have.”

All four of the Michigan relay teams going to NCAA's are in the top 10 in terms of seeding. The relay teams, which were the backbone of the Wolverines’ success in the regular season, will look to pace the squad to a successful NCAA appearance.

Just like last month, Michigan is going into Minnesota with a goal in mind, but not necessarily with expectations. Both Bottom and Madwed felt that a top-10 finish is manageable, as is finishing as the best team in the conference. But Bottom was quick to point out how this season has gone so far.

“We are a team of surprises,” Bottom said. “We don’t really know what to expect, but we’re going in looking to get in the top-10 overall and make things happen.”