The atmosphere was intense as Michigan freshman swimmer Tommy Cope and Indiana’s defending NCAA champion Ian Finnerty barrelled toward the wall in the final seconds of the 200-yard individual medley.
In one of the Wolverines’ many tight finishes of the day, Cope pulled off the upset by the narrowest of margins, besting Finnerty by a mere .01 seconds, 1:46.55 to 1:46.56.
The tight finish was one of the several high points in No. 4 Michigan’s performance at No. 3 Indiana on Thursday afternoon. Despite ultimately losing 173.5-126.5, the meet showed signs of promise for the Wolverines’ ability to compete against an elite team with few weaknesses.
Cope’s unexpected win was complemented by his more decisive victory against Finnerty in the 200-yard breaststroke. Sophomore Luis Gustavo Borges cracked the elusive 20-second barrier in the 50-yard freestyle event, besting the Hoosiers’ World Championship gold medalist Zach Apple. Junior Miles Smachlo, meanwhile, swept both butterfly events, defeating Indiana’s defending two-time Big Ten champion Vini Lanza in the 200-yard event and notching another hairbreadth win for the Wolverines in the 100-yard, beating Lanza by a tenth of a second.
“(Smachlo) had been injured for a while,” Michigan coach Mike Bottom said. “We didn’t even know if he was going to be able to swim, so the fact that he pulled it out in both of those events was great.”
Sophomore Ricardo Vargas, who has impressed in distance events throughout the season, showed up again in Bloomington. He combined with junior Felix Auböck, a fellow 2016 Olympian, for a 1-2 finish in the 500-yard freestyle. Vargas also won the 1000-yard freestyle by another thin margin, finishing 2.57 seconds ahead of the Hoosiers’ Michael Brinegar.
In both the 200-yard medley relay as well as the 400-yard freestyle relay, however, the Wolverines came up short, allowing Indiana to secure a victory.
“Losing both relays was definitely tough,” Bottom said. “But we know what we have to work on.”
On the diving side, Michigan sophomore Ross Todd took third place in both the one-and three-meter events, but overall, the Wolverines came away with no wins. This did not come as a surprise to the coaching staff.
“Our divers dove tough and they weren’t intimidated,” Bottom said. “But going against a National Champion and Olympian, those weren’t points that we expected to get.
“Indiana has really got some world-beaters. They have several Olympians and All-Americans. So we were very glad that we came away winning some events that we hadn’t expected to.”
The mixed results were nonetheless promising for Michigan, which proved it will be a strong competitor in the Big Ten as the season continues.