After the first day of a three-day long showdown at the UGA Fall Invitational 2023, the Michigan men’s and women’s swim and dive teams cemented themselves smack dab in the middle of the pack. And there they stayed for the remainder of the meet.
After starting the season strong, the Wolverines faltered at the six-team invitational. The women placed third with 724.5 points, well behind Florida’s first-place finish of 1,146. The men widened the gap to an even greater extent, placing fifth with 495.5 points, far below the Gators’ 1,169.
Yet according to Michigan coach Matt Bowe, the lackluster scores didn’t bother the Wolverines.
“This meet’s not really about points,” Bowe said. “So to be honest with you, I don’t even know where we’ve finished in terms of team standing. This meet is more about testing out your three individual events for the end of the year, putting your best foot forward for that.”
With that perspective, the meet revealed a number of notable NCAA cuts and personal victories.
From the get-go Thursday evening, the women’s team had an impressive showing in the 200-yard free relay made up of freshman Stephanie Balduccini, senior Claire Newman, sophomore Brady Kendall and junior Lindsay Flynn. These swimmers put together a second-place finish with a time of 1:27.52 and a qualification for NCAA ‘A’ standard, punching their ticket to the NCAA Championship meet. On the men’s side, junior Gal Groumi and sophomore Eitan Ben-Shitrit both received NCAA ‘B’ cuts, taking a step closer to qualifying, in the exceedingly competitive 200-yard individual medley with their second and fourth place finishes of 1:42.67 and 1:43.65.
“The girls swam really well,” Balduccini said of her relay group. “… We had a lot of fun, which is the most important part.”
On the second day, the women continued to push, demonstrating the well-roundedness and breadth of talent on their team. Michigan continued to impress in the relays, placing third in both the 200-yard medley and the 800-yard freestyle. Adding on two more top-three finishes, the Wolverines’ women cemented their third place standing going into day three.
While the men’s victories didn’t quite stack up to the women’s, Groumi and sophomore Tyler Ray placed second and third in the 100-yard butterfly with times of 44.83 and 46.19, both meeting the ‘B’ cut. Another notable showing came from junior diver Cameron Gammage, who placed first in the one-meter dive with an accumulated 380.85 points.
For the final push on day three of the invitational, both the men and women worked to keep their heads up and try to end the meet strong.
On the women’s side, this delivered definitive results. Michigan wrought two individual wins, one from Balduccini’s 47.26 finish in the 100-yard freestyle, and one from Bellard’s 1:53.21 finish in the 200-yard butterfly. Both were ‘B’ cuts. The most impressive performance came in the last event of the night though. In the 400-yard freestyle relay, Balduccini, Newman, Flynn and Liang came together to qualify for NCAA ‘A’ standards, winning the relay with a time of 3:10.30. That time would have secured fourth at last year’s NCAA meet, a promising sign for the relay group.
“When you get to that last relay, the 400 freestyle relay, you’ve got a lot of fatigue on your body and mentally it’s hard to get up and push through that last race,” Bowe said. “So they just did a phenomenal job just stepping up. They did it for each other. They did it for Michigan and so on. I’m really proud of them.”
The men also ended the meet on a high note in terms of individual times on the final day with several top-10 finishes. Groumi and Ray took the only podium wins, both in the 200-yard butterfly with times of 1:40.54 and 1:43.13. Groumi especially stood out in the meet as he left with at least one podium finish for every day he swam.
Michigan has a long break before it returns home on January 19th to face Indiana. In the meantime, the Wolverines will continue to work toward personal victories and hope their efforts can turn into more points and teamwide success on meet days.