The Michigan men’s swimming and diving team — much like its regular season — hustled for every point to return to a top-10 finish at the NCAA Championships.
For the last two seasons, the Wolverines ranked within the top 10 in the nation by the end of the regular season, ranking No. 7 and No. 3 in 2017 and 2016, respectively. However, they failed to maintain that success into the Championships, finishing in 12th and 17th in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
This year, they aimed to change that.
And they did — fighting for eighth place in a field of 38 with a score of 168.5.
Michigan had 15 swimmers score individually or in a relay — a feat that showcased the depth Michigan had lacked in the previous years.
“Just hard work, just everyone on that team improving, putting in the work in the season,” said senior P.J. Ransford on the difference between the years, “so that at the end of the season, we were able to drop time and finish where we wanted to finish.”
The standouts of the race were not just the seniors, but many underclassmen who sought to prove themselves against the high-level competition.
For sophomore Charlie Swanson, though, it was about redeeming his performance from the year prior. Finishing 23rd in the 400-yard individual medley and 43rd in the 200-yard breaststroke last season, Swanson was severely disappointed with his output. After being named the Big Ten Champion in the 400-yard IM and First Team All-Big Ten, he came into both races with high expectations before underperforming.
This year, he came fully prepared for the level of competition and clocked a 3:39.51 time for a sixth place finish in the 400-yard IM, good for All-American honors. While he didn’t score for the 200-yard breaststroke, he jumped 25 spots to improve to an 18th-place finish with a time of 1:54.59.
“Charlie’s young, he’s a sophomore as well, and I think that he — that’s the toughest field of 400 IMers in history,” said Michigan coach Mike Bottom. “Getting in that final was crazy, you know, it’s crazy.”
Ransford, who has a great relationship with Swanson, chose to cheer him on with clapping and chants, then put in a great performance in his respective races as well.
In the 1,650-yard freestyle — Ransford’s final race — the senior swam a 14:38.23 time to finish in sixth for All-American honors. In addition to that, he received the NCAA Elite 90 award for the second year as well as All-American Honorable mentions for his 500-yard freestyle, which he placed 12th.
But for him, the personal accolades were just a consolation. The only thing that was important to him was scoring points for the Wolverines to allow them to succeed.
While he contributed his fair share of points, there were plenty of other contributors as well. Namely the 800-yard freestyle relay team, consisting of junior Mokhtar Al-Yamani, sophomore Felix Auböck, freshman Richard Vargas and senior Tristan Sanders shined.
As the opening event on Wednesday, Bottom chose to experiment with the lineup in order to strengthen the depth of the team. To do so, he tried substituting a sprinter and distance swimmer into the relay team.
His experiment paid off. The relay team managed to go 6:17.10 for 13th, while allowing key members of the team to rest for their respective swims.
“I think that the effects were we scored in that relay, which was a great thing for Michigan, and then we saved some people for that,” Bottom said. “Then we, some of the people that we would’ve put on that were able to score in the individual events the next day. The 400 IM going in, … then going 500 the next day is a tough event.”
The freshman phenom Vargas showed why he was named All-Big Ten by earning two All-American honors with a time of 4:12.87 for eighth place in the 500-yard freestyle and 14:40.27 for seventh place in the 1,650-yard freestyle.
Another underclassman who showed out was Auböck. He placed second in the 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle with times of 4:09.03 and 14:29.42, respectively.
“Last year, he actually got second in both those events as well,” Ransford said. “And this year, he was just off first in both those, so he’s just been really consistent.”
The collective efforts of the team paid its dividends for the Wolverines, as the team made big strides in improving.
“One of the coaches was very complimentary sitting next to us — the Denver coach,” Bottom said. “Your team controls the deck, your team controls the atmosphere. And I think that’s what we try to do, is help everybody understand that every single point is not just the points that scored with the hand on the wall. The points were scored by inspiration and then understanding that you’re swimming for Michigan.”