The Michigan men’s swimming and diving team is used to standout performances at the NCAA Championships. After all, the seniors on this year’s team still remember celebrating a national championship in 2013, their freshman season.
The Wolverines have compiled a remarkable string of 15 straight top-10 finishes at the national meet. They’ve put themselves in a position where anything less is a disappointment.
That streak is now over, and the team’s reaction reflected that.
“I think there’s always high expectations at Michigan,” said coach Mike Bottom. “We do expect to be in the top five. That’s what we’re striving to do. When you don’t meet expectations, there’s always a little pain involved. But that pain also helps us grow, helps us learn, helps us get determined to be better.”
Michigan still managed three individual All-Americans, two All-American relays and a 12th-place finish in Atlanta. It still had a successful year, with its fifth straight undefeated dual season and its sixth straight Big Ten Championship generating a No. 4 national ranking heading into the championships.
But the Wolverines’ performance faded from a year ago in an unusually fast meet. Senior Anders Lie Nielsen and sophomore Tristan Sanders, for example, fell nine and 12 spots from their finishes last year in the 200-yard freestyle and 200-yard backstroke, respectively. Nielsen finished .49 seconds slower than last year, but still suffered a significant drop, and Sanders dropped despite winning the Big Ten title with a slower time.
Add that to the fact that several athletes were also training for the upcoming Olympic trials and had just geared up for the Big Ten meet, and as Bottom said, “We might have been a little bit off.”
Nielsen still earned All-American honors in the 500-yard freestyle at 4:16.92, and sophomore Paul Powers did the same by swimming the 50-yard freestyle in 19.05 seconds.
But Michigan’s top performer was senior Dylan Bosch, who capped his illustrious career by earning All-American honors in three events.
Bosch started the weekend by anchoring Michigan’s sixth-place 800-yard freestyle relay team, alongside Nielsen, senior Peter Brumm and junior Jack Mangan. Thursday, Bosch finished 13th in the 200-yard individual medley relay — an event in which he took sixth for each of the previous three seasons. But with the help of Powers, Nielsen and the 200-yard freestyle relay, the Wolverines moved up to fifth at the end of the day.
They faded to 10th after Friday and 12th after Saturday. But on those two days, Bosch carried the load. He swam the 100-yard butterfly instead of the 400-yard individual medley and finished seventh at 45.88. Then, he capped his weekend with a sixth-place finish in the 200-yard butterfly, where he won the national title as a sophomore in 2014.
“Personally, I think my performance at times was pretty good, and at times was very disappointing,” Bosch said. “I always want to be the best. I always want to score as many points as I possibly can. Sometimes, when you fall short of those expectations, it can kind of be demoralizing in a sense. But it’s just the way you pick yourself up and move forward from here.”
Bottom said the team gave Bosch a standing ovation at the end of the meet and praised him for his leadership and his ability to switch from the 400-yard individual medley to the 100-yard freestyle for the meet.
Ten other seniors swam as Wolverines for the last time this weekend, and Bottom commended Nielsen and Brumm individually. They, along with many senior classes before them, have had a tremendous four-year run. But this time, a slight feeling of remorse snuck in to spoil the ending.
“It’s obviously disappointing, and it’s a tough blow to take right now,” Bosch said. “But I think most important is the way we move forward from this. I definitely think in order to get back to the top, sometimes you just have to fall extremely hard to realize how to get back up to the top. I definitely know that Michigan is extremely capable of doing that, for sure.”
Many of the Wolverines’ swimmers are far from done. They, as well as the coaches, will turn their focus now to training for the Olympics this summer. Only when the Olympics end will Bottom turn his focus to next season.
“We’ll sit down as a staff and figure out the kind of changes that we can put into play to make us better,” Bottom said. “Because that’s what we do.”