An Olympian, a Pan-American champion, a three-time Brazil national champion. Coming into her freshman year with the Michigan swim and dive team, Stephanie Balduccini already had a stack of achievements on the global scale. But with high achievements comes high expectations.
And at the Georgia Invitational, Balduccini lived up to them.
“I’d say I’m really competitive, which has helped me a lot during the years,” Balduccini said. “It’s a tiring event, but I think with my competitive side, I managed to just give it my all all the time, which has definitely helped.”
Balduccini started off strong on the first day of the meet alongside senior Claire Newman, sophomore Brady Kendall and junior Lindsay Flynn in the 200-yard relay. With a time of 1:27.52, the four placed second and earned an NCAA “A” standard for qualification. With that qualification, the four earned an automatic spot at the NCAA Championships. Following this podium finish, Balduccini secured another top-five finish in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 1:56.94.
Picking up where she left off, Balduccini started the second day of the invitational topping the leaderboard in the preliminary rounds of the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:43.96. She went on to place fourth in the event final with a time of 1:43.30, a “B” standard for NCAA qualification that positioned her as a top contender for qualifying for nationals. In her final event of the day, Balduccini secured another “B” standard, this time finishing third in the 800-yard freestyle relay along with freshman Hannah Bellard, sophomore Katie Crom and sophomore Christey Liang.
In the final day of the invitational, Balduccini firmly established herself as a leading force within the team. Individually, she won the 100-yard freestyle, acquiring another NCAA “B” cut with a time of 47.26 seconds. In a triumphant end to the three days, Balduccini, Newman, Flynn and Liang won the 400-yard freestyle relay, where they not only outperformed the invitational’s first place Florida team, but also earned themselves yet another “A” cut for NCAA qualification.
“It was just a phenomenal relay,” Michigan coach Matt Bowe said of the 400 freestyle relay. “I thought the ladies did a really good job of stepping up.”
With top-five finishes in all six of her events, Balduccini had herself a victorious three days in Atlanta. Balduccini credits that success to one phrase that encapsulates her time so far at Michigan: “If you swim happy, you swim fast.”
Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, the switch from swimming in meters to yards was not the only adjustment that Balduccini had to make since becoming a Wolverine. Being 5,124 miles away from home, Balduccini emphasized how drastically her life has changed since the start of her collegiate swimming career, specifically noting the distance from her family, especially her brother. Despite having to immerse herself in a whole new environment, Balduccini has since found a home away from home within the Michigan team.
“I’ve never been part of something so big, and I’ve never swam with this many girls,” Balduccini said. “I can definitely say that I’ve never been happier swimming. There have been some moments (in the past) where I’ve been very miserable swimming, but things have definitely changed in such a short period of time.”
Despite the challenges of not only joining a new team but moving to a new country, Balduccini appears to have adjusted well if her performance last weekend is any indication. And according to her, it’s because she is having fun.
“I look at swimming as something that makes me happy again,” Balduccini said. “And I’m looking forward to everything that we can accomplish in the future.”
Her future not only includes the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments with Michigan, but also the 2024 Summer Olympics, which Balduccini, along with many of her teammates, are simultaneously focusing on this season.
As Balduccini looks to build on her fiery individual start to the season, she can impact the program beyond merely the individual level.