When the No. 5 Michigan women’s swim and dive team (4-0) ended their home-opening double dual meet against Rutgers (0-2) and Michigan State (1-1), the Wolverines didn’t focus on senior Sierra Schmidt’s nation-leading 1650-yard freestyle time.
They didn’t think about junior Maggie MacNeil’s powerful performance after being named to Canada’s provisional Olympic team.
They didn’t even think about its convincing 154-48 and 146-107 double dual victories over the Scarlet Knights and Spartans, respectively.
Instead, Michigan mourned the final meeting in a 50-year feud against their in-state rival, a program cut by its university in the wake of COVID-19’s financial turmoil.
“We’ve had a great rivalry and in swimming, those are few and far between,” Michigan coach Mike Bottom said. “We always have had a great relationship with Michigan State.”
With the backdrop of the last hurrah, the Wolverines felt nothing should be left on the table.
“It was something that was really sad and we’re going to try to continue to support them as best as we can,” Schmidt said. “When we came into this meet — because their future is so uncertain — we wanted to give them our best performance because they deserve it as our sister school.”
The Wolverines went above and beyond expectations in this final meet as athletes from both schools posted NCAA-caliber times in the middle of an intense training regimen doled out by coach Rick Bishop. The regimen included weights, dryland exercises and work in the pool, something Bottom is grateful for in preparing his swimmers for competing for championships down the line.
The Wolverines would have won by a lopsided margin, but Bottom gave most of his athlete’s exhibition status to prevent running up the score. While Michigan largely raced itself, the team looked competitive, as swimmers went back and forth for the lead in many races.
Schmidt gave two of Michigan’s best performances, although they weren’t scored. She set a pool record in the 1000-yard freestyle (9:35.49) and set a national pace for the mile freestyle (15:53.52).
“Especially because we’re in harsh training, it hurts quite a bit but it was a really great experience,” Schmidt said. “Especially with the mile, it’s a very different monster from some of the events we do. It’s really important to be able to swim that race and get a feeling for it before championship season comes around.”
Creating excitement for her championship potential, freshman Sophie Housey shattered early-season setbacks by making an NCAA “B” cut — meaning she will be invited to the NCAA tournament after all “A” cut athletes are in — in the 200-yard freestyle.
“Seeing how resilient these young ladies are, overcoming obstacles that none of us really expected pre-COVID, we’re really proud of them,” Schmidt said. “We’re all pushing each other to make sure that by the end of the season we’re all going to be in top shape and ready to throw down against some of the best teams in the country.”
Michigan State’s Erin Szara prevented Michigan from winning every race with her own NCAA “B” cut performance in the 100-yard breaststroke, showing the Spartans’ talent.
Szara’s performance shows the ability of Spartan swimmers to compete despite the drama surrounding its cancellation, something that drew emotion from Bottom.
“In a dual meet! That’s in a dual meet! In the middle of the season!” Bottom said. “Do they have people that can do the deal? Yeah, they do.”
On Michigan’s end, MacNeil worked toward her appearance at the NCAA Championship with a “B” cut in the 50-yard freestyle.
“Her performances have been great these past weekends,” Schmidt said. “She’s always just so consistent across all of her races. We’re excited to see what she has in store for us at our championship meet.”
The Wolverines came into this meet with hopes of honoring a historic program. Michigan seemed to do just that, vanquishing their Spartan foes with a warming display of respect.
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