BY ANNE UIBLE
Published March 27, 2006
ATLANTA - Earning an NCAA Championship title is tough. Defending one is even tougher.
On Saturday night, senior captain Davis Tarwater successfully reclaimed the rights to an NCAA title in the 200-yard butterfly with a personal-best time, a new school record and a Big Ten record time of 1:41.84. The Knoxville, Tenn. native kept a slight lead on the eight-man field for nearly the entire race and fought off the inching Georgia swimmer Gil Stovall at the halfway point. In the final few yards of the race, Tarwater glided to a finish just .26 seconds ahead of second-place Stovall.
"It feels good to keep my title," Tarwater said. "This year, I was really trying to break the NCAA record, and I was just off (by .06 seconds). I was a little bit disappointed, but I'm really happy to go out with the win."
Tarwater's success on the final day of competition in Atlanta propelled the Wolverines to an eighth-place finish at the NCAA Championships this weekend with a total of 209 points. Auburn (480.4) earned the overall title for the fourth consecutive year.
"We gave it our all," senior captain Peter Vanderkaay said. "I don't think our place shows how good our team really is."
Vanderkaay played an integral role in the team's point intake on both the second and final days of competition. The senior captain earned two second-place finishes, one in the 200-yard freestyle (1:33.31) and one in the 1,650-yard freestyle (14:33.76).
"I split (the 1,650-yard freestyle) just the way I wanted to," Vanderkaay said. "I was pleased with my time, but I obviously would have liked to have won."
The winner of the 1,650-yard freestyle, Georgia's Sebastian Rouault, took an early lead in the race and kept about a half-body distance between himself and Vanderkaay. At the 1,200-yard mark, Vanderkaay made a failed attempt to pull up on the leader. Sebastian pulled away once again and punched the wall more than four seconds ahead of Vanderkaay.
"I thought he had a chance (to win), but he didn't make his move early enough," Bowman said. "But that was an awesome race. To do your best time in that event in your senior year of college is a feat within itself."
While earning second place in the 1,650, Vanderkaay was also part of the runner-up finish to Arizona in the 800-yard freestyle relay along with seniors Chris DeJong, Tarwater and sophomore brother Alex Vanderkaay.
The team had set its sights on winning the 800-yard freestyle relay since being runners-up last year at the NCAA Championships. The title has had Michigan roots since the early nineties when the Wolverines became the national leader in long-distance events.
"We really wanted that win badly," Tarwater said. "We hoped to bring the title back to Michigan. We swam our hearts out and did the best we could. It was a little frustrating, but being runners-up is not too bad."
Bowman pointed to DeJong's second leg of the relay as being the most impressive considering the senior rallied back after a career best swim earlier that evening in 200-yard freestyle.
"Chris had a tough time when he didn't make it to the finals in the 200-yard freestyle," Bowman said. "But he had a great evening race, and I think that made him even stronger in the relay. I'm very proud of the way he swam. He's given a lot to Michigan, and I really appreciate that."
The Holland native went on the next day to place ninth in the 200-yard backstroke with a time of 1:43.12.
The final swimmer that put up critical points for the Wolverines was Alex Vanderkaay. The sophomore was primed for the meet after earning a Big Ten title in the 400-yard individual medley and being runner-up in the 200-yard individual medley at the Big Ten Championships three weeks ago. The confidence that he earned in Bloomington was obvious in his swims this weekend. The younger Vanderkaay earned three top-eight finishes in the 500-yard freestyle, 400-yard individual medley and 200-yard butterfly and was part of the runner-up 800-yard freestyle relay team.
"Overall I am very happy with my swims," Alex said. "My main goal was to get top-eight in all of my events, and I did that."
Bowman was impressed with how Alex performed over the weekend and believes that the future of the younger Vanderkaay is full of potential.
"Alex had a great weekend for us," Bowman said. "He has grown a lot this year, and it will be fun to see him develop over the next couple of years."
With the completion of the season this past weekend, the Wolverines will graduate seven seniors and will be without a pair of NCAA individual champions. But with the addition of 12 freshmen to the squad this year, the team's future is anything but bleak.