It was New Year’s Eve, and the Michigan women’s swimming and diving team returned to the water. Only this time, the sixth-ranked Wolverines were on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico, ready to ring in 2017 with each other.

Dipping and dodging stray sparks, Michigan enjoyed the holiday’s firework show and an evening off, all while knowing practice would be later the next morning.

It was the team’s annual training trip to the Florida Keys, allowing the athletes to relax while continuing to prepare for arguably the most important leg of the season — three Big Ten dual meets, as well as the conference and NCAA Championships.

The trip, Michigan coach Mike Bottom specified, was not only to improve in the water but also to bond and celebrate the Wolverines’ success in the classroom. To do so, Michigan took a break from its books and backstrokes for a beach day. Ironically, no swimming was involved — only wading and some minor splashing ensued. 

Most of the trip, though, was spent in the water practicing.

With two available pools, the Wolverines had eight hours of available training facilities each day, typically clocking in two four-hour sessions. Though strenuous, Michigan quickly reaped the benefits of the intensive training in the Orange Bowl Classic on Jan. 3 in Key Largo, Fla. at the culmination of the trip.

We broke the meet record in almost every event, said senior Madison Horton. It was awesome.

And it was not an exaggeration. The Wolverines came in first place among the six teams competing, winning all 12 events and setting meet records in nine of them. 

Four Michigan swimmers came out on top in multiple events, including sophomore Siobhán Haughey (100-meter freestyle, 200-meter IM), freshman Vanessa Krause (50-meter butterfly, 100-meter butterfly) and juniors Clara Smiddy (50-meter backstroke, 100-meter backstroke) and Emily Kopas (50-meter breaststroke, 100-meter breaststroke).

That’s how they learn to be champions, Bottom said. They go into these opportunities to race, and they figure out how to get better.

And get better, they did.

It’s a team thing, Bottom said. They help each other and push each other as individuals. That’s why this team does so well, because they have bonded not only in the pool, but outside in the classroom and in the community. That’s what helps them to understand what being a champion is all about.

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