The No. 9 Michigan women’s swimming and diving team started out the new year swimmingly — with a victory.

For the fourth consecutive season, the Wolverines ended their weeklong training trip in Key Largo, Fla., with a win at the Orange Bowl Swim Classic. Michigan competed in mostly sprint races against four other schools and finished the day with a final tally of 265 points. In total, there were seven new meet records. Notably, the Wolverines were able to place first, second and third in six of the races.

“The focus in this meet was to execute the details … just like the football team did this week in their bowl game. It was inspirational,” said Michigan coach Mike Bottom.

The team gathered to watch the Citrus Bowl at a swimming and diving alumnus’ house near Key Largo. Bottom described the trip as the quintessential “Michigan experience.”

And when the meet itself started, the Wolverines dominated. Sophomore Emily Kopas and freshman Siobhán Haughey paced Michigan with two wins apiece. Kopas dominated in the breaststroke, out-touching her opponents in the 50-meter race (32.04) and the 100-meter race (1:10.57), while Haughey placed first in the 100-meter freestyle (55.86) and the 200-meter individual medley (2:14.64).

Rounding out the event winners were sophomore Gillian Ryan in the 400-meter freestyle (4:15.21), sophomore Clara Smiddy in the 100-meter backstroke (1:01.12), junior Maddy Frost in the 50-meter freestyle (26.57) and senior Ali DeLoof in the 50-meter backstroke (28.32). In addition, Michigan won both of the relays at the meet.

Despite the success, Bottom believes the annual trip to Florida between Christmas and the New Year’s holiday is more about the training than the competition.

“This training trip is so important to us,” Bottom said. “This is a team that is so academically focused. We’re under a lot of pressure to reach their full potential both in academics and in athletics. But when we’re here, we’re only focused on swimming. Part of our objective is to help the athletes enjoy each other and the team a little bit more.

“We make changes in technique better here. Things like starts and turns. All of the little things that make the champion better.”

Despite the rigorous training schedule, the women’s team was able to bond among themselves and with the men’s team during downtime. Activities included seeing fireworks, a boat trip and eating meals.

But within a week of returning to Ann Arbor, the team will be getting right back into their competition season. Bottom relies on one thing to keep his swimmers motivated — focus.

“Focus is a great way to keep people moving forward,” Bottom said. “There is no time to stop. We have to keep moving. That’s what the schedule calls for.”

When looking for the types of recruits he wants on the team, Bottom searches for someone who maintains a clear focus and the ability to adapt to the team atmosphere. To Bottom, it takes a certain type of person to be able to work through a demanding athletic and academic schedule.

“We recruit athletes that are going to understand what it takes to be a Michigan Wolverine,” Bottom said. “It doesn’t mean they have it when they come in, but they have to be determined. They have to have a focus and a direction. And they have to put in the energy to athletics, academics and their community. We recruit athletes who understand this. Ninety-nine percent of the time we don’t get the best recruits, but we get people who always improve.” 

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