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How to 'Be an Athlete' for women's swimming and diving

Patrick Barron/Daily
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By Shannon Lynch, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 29, 2013

Three words bunched together create a remarkably simple phrase – “Be an athlete.” As simple as they might be, those words have had a massive impact on the freshman class of the No. 25 Michigan women’s swimming and diving team.

Marni Oldershaw and Ali Deloof, two of the team’s top performing freshman, have become very familiar with those three words over the course of their first season at Michigan. The mantra, “be an athlete,” is the one that Michigan coach Mike Bottom constantly reminds his swimmers to follow.

“It’s just completely committing yourself to what you’re doing and being able to overcome kind of anything, in sport or in your life,” Oldershaw said. “I really take that to the classroom, I take it to social situations, I take it to the pool, – it follows us.”

The phrase itself is not imaginative. It’s not unique. It can apply to any athlete playing any sport at any level. So why has this mantra meant so much to this team and propelled the freshman class to compete at such a high caliber?

It’s because the Wolverines have made the phrase their own, something that applies only to them. It is almost as if the freshman have created a guide on how to “be an athlete.”

Team first

“You don’t swim for yourself, and I think that truly gets me through all the hard parts, all the hard aspects of my whole life right now,” Oldershaw said. “It’s not about me, it’s about the team and that really helps.”

The team has blossomed in the past month, showing strength across the board in a number of events, and is currently 3-1 in 2013 and 4-2 in the Big Ten. The freshman class has made major contributions in every victory, and senior Ashley Cohagen attributes their success to a team commitment.

“It’s not about you, it’s about the people on the sidelines cheering for you which is a really cool thing and it really helps you get through your races,” Cohagen said.

Just Keep Swimming

“Whenever we’re doing a hard set, (assistant coach Mark Hill) always says, ‘Just keep moving forward. You’ll be fine, just keep moving forward,’ ” Deloof said.

Added Oldershaw: “The hurt goes away but the work you’ve done will stay.”

Overall, this season hasn’t been an easy one for the Wolverines. With the retirement of former coach Jim Richardson just before the fall semester began, Bottom took on the task of head coach for both the men’s and women’s team, and the entire program experienced growing pains as a result. Not only did the freshman class have to adjust to being on a brand new team, it was entering an environment no one had experienced before.

While the adjustments may not have been easy, the team has done surprisingly well considering the circumstances. Seven swimmers currently hold top-10 ranks in the Big Ten, and despite starting the season with some rough losses, the team is now 4-4 overall.

Making Waves

Bottom is constantly throwing curve balls at his team, challenging them to do more than just win. Whether it’s moving faster in the pool or break records that have been around for decades, his style of coaching has prepped them to deal with any situation and given them the tools to surprise their opponents.

“It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about causing chaos or disruption, is the way that Mike puts it,” Oldershaw said. “Beating someone you’re not supposed to beat, going a time you’re not supposed to go.”

The Wolverines were able to pull this off in an underdog victory against then-No. 15 Ohio State by surprising their opponents and topping the scoreboard the entire night. They won eight events during the meet and went 2-3-4-5 in two races, and 2-3-4 in two others, to add to their point margin.

“Anything that’s thrown our way during meets we can handle, but (other teams) are not as prepared,” Cohagen said.

The meet against Ohio State was not one the team anticipated winning, but by creating chaos and doing more in the pool than they were expected to, they came out with the victory.

Being a college athlete is never easy. But having to adjust to a new environment while also dealing with the pressures of academics and team pressures makes success all the more difficult to attain. While its season has been far from perfect, the women’s swim team has lived up to the mantra “be an athlete,” and the expectations for their success are far greater than they were a few short months ago.