Launching off the wall, swimmers at the Be Better Invitational were neck and neck as they propelled themselves forward using their … fins?
On Friday, the Michigan men’s swim and dive team joined Hope College and Calvin University at the Be Better Invitational hosted in memory of late Wolverines swimmer Ian Miskelley.
Miskelley, a former Michigan swimmer loved by his teammates and friends, sadly passed in 2020. In his honor, his parents, Steve and Jill Miskelley, founded Be Better, a nonprofit organization focusing on mental health. To raise support for the organization, Michigan has committed to hosting the Be Better Invitational each year in memory of the late swimmer.
This non-scoring meet was unique as it highlighted the joys of swimming through traditional and non-traditional events, such as a 50-yard underwater fin race and mystery shootout. Despite the absence of a traditional meet structure, Michigan still showcased the versatility and potential locked within its team.
“This was amazing,” Michigan coach Matt Bowe said. “It’s for a great cause. To honor Ian and have Steve and Jill (Miskelley) in attendance was pretty special. This is a meet we’re going to continue … it’s a great cause, and we want to support it.”
While not every meet will be as full of laughter as this one, Bowe strives to replicate that lighthearted and uplifting atmosphere in practice.
“I want it to be a family atmosphere,” Bowe said. “I want the athletes to enjoy what they’re doing because if they enjoy what they’re doing, they’re going to be far more invested in their performance and getting better.”
This philosophy appears to have paid early dividends as the Wolverines claimed the top four places in the 100-yard butterfly, the 100-yard breaststroke, the 200-yard freestyle and the 400-yard freestyle relay. In addition, Friday also saw a Michigan swimmer finish first in each event of the meet.
The Wolverines’ fighting spirit was shown through sophomore Logan Zucker, who sliced through the water with powerful, rhythmic strokes as he fought to gain the lead in the 200-yard freestyle. Close behind was junior Gal Groumi, whose quick kicks propelled him forward, narrowing the gap between himself and Zucker. Heading into the final 25 yards of the race, Zucker and Groumi gave it their all, creating whitewater behind them as they barreled to the finish.
Fingers outstretched, Zucker slammed into the wall with a time of 1:40.79, seizing first place. Groumi touched three seconds later with senior Juan Ceresa and freshman Jaden Ficklen close behind, taking second, third, and fourth places, respectively.
Moreover, another swimmer seen flying through the water was senior Bence Szabados. As the anchor of Michigan’s A-team 200-yard medley relay, the starter for the 400-yard freestyle relay and the winner of the 50-yard freestyle and mystery shootout event, Szabados put in work leading up to the invitational.
Zucker, a mid-distance to distance swimmer, and Szabados, a mid-distance swimmer to sprinter, both contributed to the team’s success on Friday while highlighting the Wolverines’ depth.
“From a coaching perspective, you have to look at what events people do and break it down into what you need to get better for those specific events,” Bowe said. “So, on the sprint side, it’s going to be more speed and power work as well as breath control. However, on the distance or middle distance side of things, you’re going to have to start increasing the aerobic work you do and add in some tougher aerobic sets on shorter rest.”
Sophomore Eitan Ben-Shitrit showcased his aerobic endurance during his performance in five 100-yard freestyle swims in two-minute intervals from a dive. This non-traditional event tested the swimmers’ stamina, giving them two minutes to complete a 100-yard freestyle and whatever time remaining to rest. The 2023 Big Ten Freshman of the Year earned cheers from the crowd as he cut through the water to finish first for each 100 yards swam.
Ben-Shitrit was a master of consistency, keeping all of his 100-yard swims within a second of one another, with his fastest time being 47.34 seconds and his slowest being 48.04 seconds.
While this non-scoring meet was a positive start to the Wolverines’ season and a heartfelt commemoration of a late teammate, Bowe has lofty aspirations for the team’s competitive future.
“I think we’re in a place where the program has been a little bit down this past year,” Bowe said. “…Eventually, our goals are to win a Big Ten Championship, and we want to win a national championship in the future. I think if you look at our team, there’s a phenomenal Olympic legacy, a legacy of athletes performing at the international level. So, that’s going to be a focus for us.”
And so, while the focus of this meet was neither placement nor times, Michigan was still able to display its depth as it kicked off the season.