As soon as he dove in, the race was over.
For 40 laps, senior PJ Ransford glided up and down the pool, toying with the rest of the field before touching the wall first in the 1,000-yard freestyle.
“I felt really strong,” Ransford said. “I was hitting my stroke count really well and it worked out really nicely.”
However, success did not come as easily for the rest of Ransford’s team. The eighth-ranked Wolverines (3-1 Big Ten, 5-1 overall) would win just three more events on Saturday en route to a disappointing loss to No. 4 Indiana (1-0 Big Ten, 7-0 overall) — the defending conference champions — 170.5 to 129.5.
The loss marked the Michigan men’s swimming and diving team’s first defeat at home at the Canham Natatorium since 2008, as they won just four events on the day to Indiana’s twelve.
In the sprint freestyle events, the Wolverines had no answer for the Hoosiers’ Blake Pieroni, who helped the U.S. win gold in the 400-meter freestyle relay in Rio. Pieroni touched first in the 50, 100 and 200, downing fellow Rio Olympian and sophomore Felix Aubock along the way.
Michigan was no match for Indiana on the boards as well, as the Hoosiers took the top four spots in the three-meter diving event. Sophomores Jacob Herremans and Stevie Anderson finished fifth and sixth respectively. In the one-meter event, Indiana took the top two spots.
Still, there were several silver-linings for the Wolverines. Michigan dominated the long-distance events. After Ransford cruised to victory in the 1,000, he added another first place finish in the 500-yard freestyle. Freshman Luiz Gustavo Borges and Aubock followed suit, sealing the 1-2-3 sweep for the Wolverines, respectively.
“As a distance group, we knew we had to do really well and score a lot of points in those events,” Ransford said. “We scored a lot of points in both races which is all you can ask for.”
Additionally, senior Evan White was involved in a pair of extremely close races. In the opening 200-meter medley relay, White’s strong butterfly leg catapulted the Wolverines to an apparent split-second victory. However the Michigan relay team was later disqualified.
In the 100-yard butterfly, White touched the wall first by a fingernail, igniting a roar in the crowd at Canham. He capped off the day with a pair of second-place finishes in the 200-yard butterfly and 200-yard individual medley.
“I was trying to race as fast as I could and score points for Michigan really,” White said.
Added Michigan coach Mike Bottom: “Evan’s a senior and every senior wants to fight for Michigan.”
The Wolverines’ seniors proved Bottom right. Several of them recorded their best times on the day, including James Peek, who split a 43.8 in the 400-yard freestyle relay.
“We’re getting towards the end of our collegiate career,” Ransford said, “and you just want to fire it up and swim fast for the team.”
Though the outcome was disappointing, Bottom continued to emphasize the value of these regular season dual meets as learning experiences and opportunities for growth, especially against an elite team like the Hoosiers.
“When you face great competition you rise to it,” Bottom said. “We rose, they rose.”
With just over a month until the Big Ten Championships, the Wolverines have their work cut out for them.
“We just have to do what we do,” Bottom said. “We have to get better.”
And just like last year, this year’s championship meet will likely come down to Michigan and Indiana once again. But this time, according to White, the Wolverines will be looking to avenge losses from both last year’s championships and Saturday’s dual meet.
“It’s always tough to take a loss at home,” said White. “But our guys showed strong mentalities, and this is just going to be fuel for the fire for the championship season.”