The Michigan men’s swim and dive team was thrown into the deep end this past Saturday.
That’s not an overstatement. Nor is it just a bad pun.
In the team’s first scored meet in over a month, the No. 6 Wolverines (3-1 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) were pitted against No. 5 Indiana (4-0, 2-0) and No. 23 Iowa (2-2, 0-2) in Bloomington. While Michigan came away from the meeting with a split decision – besting the Hawkeyes, 218-82, but falling to the Hoosiers, 165-135 – the stiff competition and hostile environment served as a barometer for the team’s growth and informed the unit on areas of improvement.
The Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center is notoriously packed with Hoosier fans. Being the away team at such a site, according to Michigan coach Mike Bottom, can have negative psychological effects mid-race, which can undermine months of work.
“People have the tendency to lose their focus against that type of support,” Bottom said, citing the importance of his athletes continuing to “… (do) what they want in spite of the distractions.”
The Wolverines did just that, starting the competition off with an upset win. Bottom called that victory in the 200-yard individual medley relay a real surprise. Michigan's quartet finished almost a second in front of the rest of the field. Senior Miles Smalcho and junior Luiz Gustavo Borges engineered a second-half comeback with low splits in the butterfly and freestyle, respectively.
The following events saw Michigan and Indiana trading victories with consistency. Junior Ricardo Vargas won both the 1,000 and 500-yard freestyle events by a handful of seconds each. Smalcho followed up his heroics in the opening relay with a pair of wins in the individual butterfly categories.
“Indiana has been winning Big Tens for the last three years, so they’re the team to beat,” Bottom said. “(We knew) we would have to swim up to win the meet and we swam up.”
The Hoosiers pulled away in the latter half of the meet, spurred by their dominance in the freestyle and backstroke sprints. Indiana’s Mory Gould took control on the diving board, winning both the 1-meter and 3-meter performances handily.
Saturday’s final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay, iced the Hoosier’s jurisdiction of the meet and showcased their depth. Michigan’s quartet hit the pad seven seconds off the lead after being thoroughly out-stroked by two Indiana foursomes.
Despite coming up short, Bottom was impressed and heartened by the Wolverines’ performance.
“We’re really encouraged because they had all the advantage," Bottom said, "… hometown officials, hometown fans."