As soon as it became official, 28 members of the Michigan women’s swimming and diving team — donning Big Ten Champion baseball caps and T-shirts — hurled themselves into the diving well at Boilermaker Aquatic Center on Saturday night. Coach Mike Bottom followed suit, entering the water emphatically with a victorious front-flip. When the Wolverines began to sing a splash-filled version of “The Victors,” reality set in — Michigan had just won back-to-back Big Ten Championships.
“I don’t swim like I used to swim,” Bottom laughed. “But I float a lot better than I used to float.”
After sophomore Siobhan Haughey was disqualified in the 200-yard IM final on Thursday night after touching first, Michigan’s chances at repeating looked bleak. The Wolverines, who would have been in first place if Haughey had won, sat in third going into the final two days of the meet — trailing Indiana by 30.
But No. 6 Michigan was up for the challenge.
“I looked at the team and basically said, ‘Hey, what are we gonna do about this?’” Bottom said. “They responded very well the next day. We had incredible swims — we had one of the best mornings I think this Michigan program has ever seen.”
The Wolverines recorded 47 career bests and 10 new school records en route to winning their 16th Big Ten title. It marked the first time the team took home consecutive conference championships since the 1997-98 seasons. Michigan finished the meet with 1,287 points, while Indiana placed second with 1,125 points and Wisconsin rounded out the top three with 1,101.5 points.
Michigan was aided by top-notch performances when it needed them most. Junior G Ryan had a dominant showing, tasting victory in the 500-yard freestyle, 1,650-yard freestyle and 800-yard freestyle relay.
“I was really just determined to score as many points as I could for Michigan, that was what I came here to do,” Ryan said. “The 500 and the mile were great because I could see my team on the side of the pool, so every time I breathed that way I knew that I had the team behind me.”
In the 200-yard freestyle, Haughey defended her Big Ten title, posting school, Big Ten and Big Ten Championship records with a time of 1:42.49. The sophomore picked up second place in the 100-yard freestyle as well.
Junior Clara Smiddy — the defending Big Ten champion in the 100-yard backstroke — placed second in both the 100-yard and 200-yard backstroke events, while freshman Vanessa Krause touched second and third in the 200-yard and 100-yard butterfly events, respectively. Junior Emily Kopas set a school record in the 100-yard breaststroke (59.54), finishing fifth in the event.
From start to finish, relays played an integral role in the Wolverines’ scoring. Michigan kicked off competition with a win in the 800-yard freestyle relay (sophomore Yirong Bi, Haughey, junior Gabby DeLoof, Ryan), breaking school, Big Ten and Big Ten Championship records. In the 400-yard medley relay (Smiddy, Kopas, Krause, Haughey), the Wolverines set yet another school record and claimed third. To close out the meet, Michigan placed second in the 400-yard freestyle relay (sophomore Catie DeLoof, Haughey, sophomore Becca Postoll, Gabby DeLoof).
On the boards, senior Keegan McCaffrey took home 13th in the one-meter diving event, while freshman Kristen Hayden and senior Allie Murphy placed 16th and 21st, respectively. Hayden finished 11th and McCaffrey finished 19th in the three-meter event. In the platform diving finals, junior Dani VanderZwaag, Murphy and McCaffrey placed 11th, 12th and 13th, respectively.
“Our divers scored a lot of points,” Bottom said. “On this last night when we knew we had to beat Indiana, all five of our divers scored. That was huge.”
For Michigan’s seniors, it was certainly an exciting way to finish their Big Ten careers. Seniors Maddy Frost, Madison Horton, Celia Keany and Julia Fiks Salem all made finals in at least one of their events.
“It was fun to see our senior leadership — who have not always been the leaders in the water because they weren’t the best of swimmers — all score today,” Bottom said.
But the Wolverines’ success did not come easy. When Michigan was just about counted out with two days remaining, coach Bottom delivered one simple message to the team.
“We talked about understanding who we are — using the emotions, whatever the emotions are … to move us forward as champions,” Bottom said.
Added Ryan: “He talked to us about belief — belief in each other and what we’re capable of — and we never let go of that and that’s why we ended up champions tonight.”
But for Ryan and many others, the magnitude of a conference championship still has not set in.
“It hasn’t processed at all yet,” Ryan said. “It’s amazing — that much I know right now. It’s incredible to watch this team grow even more year after year.
“It’s an honor to be able to say that we’re the best in the Big Ten this year.”