As he hurled himself into the diving well at McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion on Saturday night, reality finally set in for Michigan coach Mike Bottom. For the third year in a row, his women’s swimming and diving team had won the Big Ten Championships.
It did not come easy, however.
After Michigan was disqualified in the first event of the meet — the 200-yard medley relay — the Wolverines were in a 54-point hole. Their chances at another Big Ten title were in question.
“Our team had a choice,” Bottom said. “They could get angry and mad and complain, but that’s not what we’ve been rehearsing all year. We’ve been rehearsing that when there’s a challenge, you step up to it.”
And Michigan did just that.
After finishing day one in 10th place overall, the Wolverines put together a dominant showing in the second day of the competition. Sophomore Siobhán Haughey touched first in the 200-yard individual medley, senior Rose Bi won the 500-yard freestyle by over two seconds and Michigan took third in the 400-yard medley relay, setting a school record in the process.
From there, the rest was history. The Wolverines recorded nine school records en route to their 17th Big Ten title in program history — and it wasn’t even close. Michigan’s margin of victory, 312.5 points over second-place Indiana, was the largest by any team in the Big Ten Championships since 2011.
On the biggest stage in Big Ten swimming and diving, the Wolverines notched one standout performance after another.
In the deep end, Michigan was aided by career-best performances from its divers. In the one-meter event, freshman Christy Cutshaw toppled expectations to make the final, where she placed seventh, while freshman Nikki Canale recorded the third-highest score in school history in the three-meter event.
“They showed their resilience,” said diving coach Mike Hilde. “They showed their mental toughness, that they can compete at this level at such an early age in their college careers.”
Back in the pool, Michigan recorded a 1-2-3 sweep in the 200-yard freestyle, with Haughey placing first. Senior Gabby DeLoof and her younger sister, junior Catie DeLoof, filled out the podium.
In the 200-yard butterfly, sophomore Vanessa Krause picked up where Haughey and company left off, touching the wall over a second before the rest of the field and cruising to a Big Ten record.
“I just saw my entire team behind my block,” Krause said. “They were like ‘Look, look, you broke the Big Ten record.’ I looked up and I saw the one by name and I was just like ‘This was all because of you guys, you guys pushed me to do this.’ ”
Though swimming is mainly an individual sport, the importance of the team is something Bottom instilled in the program in his earliest days as head coach.
“The way that these girls put their arms around each other and supported each other … it was a team performance,” Bottom said.
Before Bottom took over as head coach of the women’s team in 2012, the Wolverines had not won a Big Ten championship since 2004. Now, Bottom has revamped the Michigan women’s team into a national powerhouse, capped off by three consecutive conference championships.
He credits this golden age of Michigan women’s swimming and diving to this year’s senior class.
This group of seniors — which features DeLoof, Emily Kopas, Carolyn McCann, G Ryan, Clara Smiddy, Dani Vanderzwaag and Jamie Yeung — was Bottom’s second class as head coach of the women’s team.
“We have a senior class that is second to none,” Bottom said. “They’re exciting, compassionate, smart, and they work hard. This team has been led by our seniors.”
To put the cherry on top, the Michigan foursome of Gabby DeLoof, Catie DeLoof, freshman Daria Pyshnenko, and Haughey touched first in the last event of the meet, the 400-yard freestyle relay. Michigan broke the Big Ten record in the event, and recorded the second-fastest time in the country this year.
In one of her last races as a Wolverine, Gabby recorded the fastest split of anyone in the pool at 47.28.
“It’s just surreal because it’s my last one,” she said. “I got to do it with both of my sisters.”
But that race won’t be her last, as the Wolverines will head to the NCAA Championships next month.
For now though, they will take some time to celebrate. And for Krause, there is no better feeling than that.
“Singing ‘The Victors’ in the pool as we’re all drowning together and out of breath and we’re all hanging on to one another — it’s awesome.”