On the heels of a fourth consecutive Big Ten title in the 50-yard freestyle, senior Maggie MacNeil didn’t falter.
She tied for the fastest reaction time in the field at 0.64 seconds, took eight fewer strokes than second-placed Buckeye Amy Fulmer and was the event’s only competitor to break 11 seconds on the back half.
MacNeil retained her ninth Big Ten individual title and gave the No. 9 Michigan women’s swim and dive team its first title of the meet. It was the highlight of a five-title performance that led the Wolverines to their fourth straight runner-up finish at this weekend’s Big Ten Championships.
On the first day, the Wolverines failed to capitalize on their sub-1:35 seed time — the only one in the 200-yard medley relay field — and fell to Ohio State’s “A” relay team by a full second. At the end of the next event, without anyone able to break 50 seconds on their leg of the 400-yard freestyle relay as Fulmer did, Michigan entered day two with a 18-point deficit to No. 6 Ohio State.
Day two, however, signaled the start of individual events, and sophomore Kathryn Ackerman got things going with a 4th-place finish in the 500-yard freestyle. Clocking in at 4:40 flat, Ackerman secured 26 points in an event she did not even compete in at last year’s Big Tens.
In between Ackerman’s stunning performance and MacNeil’s dominating race, seniors Victoria Kwan and Olivia Carter swam NCAA “B” cuts and combined for 45 points to Michigan’s total. At the end of the day, Michigan trailed the Buckeyes by 13.5 points to sit in second place overall.
With the help of MacNeil and Carter, Michigan came within a 1.5 point deficit to Ohio State on day three. The night before, the seniors rallied with freshmen Letitia Sim and Lindsay Flynn only to narrowly fall to Ohio State’s Big Ten record-shattering “A” squad in the 400-yard medley relay. MacNeil and Carter came back with vengeance on the third night, finishing one-two in the 100-yard butterfly.
And MacNeil’s work was far from over.
Working with underclassmen Flynn, Cheuk Kan, and Claire Newman, MacNeil — who swam the event’s fastest leg of 21.01 seconds — helped to break a three-year Big Ten record by one-tenth of a second and assisted on giving Michigan its first Big Ten relay title of the meet.
So the record-breaking began.
On the final day of competition, Carter broke her own Big Ten record 0.34 seconds and bested her preliminary time by two seconds, swimming a 1:51.83 finals time in the 200-yard butterfly. She and MacNeil delivered once again on a relay, teaming with Flynn and Newman to break the 3:10 barrier in the 400-yard freestyle relay.
In the culmination of four days of triumphs, brilliant breakthroughs and narrow losses, Michigan finished second to Ohio State in team scoring in this year’s Big Ten Championships.
Claiming three of the meet’s seven Big Ten records, nonetheless, is no dubious feat. The Wolverines have shown they are capable of producing individually and collectively on relays no matter which team holds the team mantle at the end. Instead, Michigan can hang its hats on six gold medals and one bronze.
One Wolverine in particular cannot be discouraged by Michigan’s four consecutive runner-up finishes at Big Ten’s — MacNeil.
As a two-time Big Ten Swimmer of the Meet and with 19 total Big Ten titles — of which 11 are individual — MacNeil is left with one more collegiate challenge: the NCAA Championships. With Big Ten competition in her rearview mirror, MacNeil is looking for back-to-back NCAA titles in the 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly. Without a doubt, her teammates will stand right behind her.