Come on in, the water's fine: Wolverines win fourth straight title

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By Max Bultman, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 2, 2014

When the officials of the Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championships began handing out All-Conference awards, Mike Bottom took his shoes off.

For the fourth straight season, the world-renowned Michigan swimming coach was about to take a celebratory dive into the pool. Bottom, who is in his sixth season with the team, has won five Big Ten championships in his tenure.

This one, though, brought a new twist to the celebration — a home crowd.

The No. 2 Michigan men’s swimming and diving team (6-0 Big Ten, 9-0 overall) earned the applause Saturday at Canham Natatorium, finishing off a four-day championship weekend that saw the Wolverines accumulate 889 total points — 325 more than runner-up Indiana.

“What it means is to see the happy — I mean, look at the fans,“ Bottom said, stopping gesture to a wall of parents, students and alumni singing ‘The Victors’ in the bleachers. “That’s a world of difference in what we’re doing.”

Added senior Connor Jaeger: “How many hours a week do I spend here? This is my home. It’s so sentimental that my last swim senior year ends with being able to celebrate with the home crowd and the whole team here.”

Michigan was dominant throughout the weekend, breaking school, pool and conference records along the way. Eleven of its athletes were named first-team All-Big Ten.

The Wolverines’ team of Jaeger, sophomore Anders Nielsen, junior Justin Glanda and senior Michael Wynalda began the excitement Wednesday, setting a new NCAA record in the 800-yard freestyle relay. The quartet finished in 6:09.85, beating the old record by .25 seconds.

The record-setting performance came just after Michigan’s first win of the meet — the 200-yard medley relay — in which senior John Wojciechowski, sophomore Peter Brumm and juniors Richard Funk and Bruno Ortiz won in 1:24.38.

While the speedy relay times were impressive, they were somewhat expected. The Wolverines have arguably the best distance corps in the nation and are the reigning national champions in the 200-yard medley relay.

Less expected, though, was the standout showing by sophomore Timothy Faerber on the diving board. Faerber became the first Michigan diver in 11 years to score in all three diving events — the one- and three-meter diving boards, and the platform dive. Qualifying eighth in all three disciplines, Faerber took fourth place in the three-meter and the platform.

Though the diving board has been a source of frustration for the Wolverines this season, Faerber delivered, something that is sure to inspire confidence in the team going forward — especially considering how well he bounced back from the few dives that didn’t score highly.

“I actually don’t try to clear my mind,” Faerber said. “I let it sit there. I used to try to forget about it, but that’s impossible. I let it sit there to fuel to my next dive and make me angry, and I know I have to make up for it with my next few.”

Back in the pool, Michigan’s most electric display came from senior Kyle Whitaker and sophomore Dylan Bosch.

The pair went 1-2 in three individual events, including both individual medleys. Bosch won the 200-yard butterfly, setting a new Big Ten record in preliminaries and leading a pack of Wolverines that took four of the top five spots. In the final, Bosch set the pace at 1:40.54, and was followed by his training partner, Whitaker, in 1:41.90. Brumm and Wojciechowski took fourth and fifth, respectively.

Whitaker, though, got the best of the sophomore in the two medleys. In Thursday’s 200-yard individual medley, Whitaker finished in 1:41.30, closely followed by Bosch in 1:41.66. Earlier in the day at prelims, Whitaker broke former Wolverine Tyler Clary’s school record by swimming the race in a time of 1:41.14.

Clary, an Olympic gold medalist in the 200-meter backstroke, was in the building to see his record broken.

“Obviously, I’d love to keep the record forever,” Clary said. “It’s cool that the guys that broke them are guys that I’ve trained with. I’ve come to know them, and I like them a lot.

“I know that those guys focus a lot on detail. If anything, I was watching them to see if I could learn anything about their breaststroke.”

Clary too is part of the winning tradition built at Canham Natatorium.

The eastern wall of the pool building holds the offices of Bottom, diving coach KZ Li and all of their assistants. In the window of each office sits a Big Ten championship trophy — a reminder to everyone who walks by of the high standard for success.

“I think (it’s intimidating),” Jaeger said. “I think (other swimmers) know where they are when they walk in here.”

Jaeger did his part to take up more window space over the weekend. The senior successfully defended his titles in both the 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyles and added a 4th place finish in the 400-yard individual medley.

In the 1,650-yard event, Jaeger was flanked by sophomore Anders Lie Nielsen, his training partner and fellow Olympian. The two cruised through the swim, finishing first and third in times of 14:34.19 and 14:48.23, respectively.

Jaeger led the entire race, a situation he has grown accustomed to over his four-year career at Michigan.

He and the rest of the seniors will leave Michigan having won a Big Ten title in every season they’ve competed.

“When they came in, they were taught by seniors before them, and they took in the culture of the teams before them,” Bottom said. “They’ve carried it forward. They’re carrying forward what Michigan’s all about.”

In less than a month, Jaeger, Whitaker, Faerber, Bottom and the rest of the Wolverines will travel to Dallas, looking to take another victory swim at the NCAA Championships. Bottom will wear his shoes on the pool deck there.

Of course, if everything goes right for his team, he very well could be taking them off again, for one more swim with his seniors.