The No. 4 Michigan women’s swimming and diving teams went head to head with some of the nation’s top competition and came out feeling positive about its results.
For a team that was ranked No. 1 in the country at the beginning of the season, a middling fourth-place finish out of eight teams might seem like a disappointment.
But at the Georgia Invitational in Athens, Ga., the Wolverines broke several school and conference records — a good sign for a team that is aiming to add to its a Big Ten championship season from last year — and were able to qualify swimmers for seven races at the NCAA “A” level, and 33 races at the NCAA “B” level.
Five teams ranked in the top 11 competed at the meet, with No. 10 California coming out on top.
Junior G Ryan and sophomore Yirong Bi were the long-distance standouts from Michigan. In the first day of action, Ryan swam her best race of the season, posting a Big Ten record time of 4:34.28 in the 500-yard freestyle.
It is Ryan’s favorite event to swim, and she normally competes well in the race. But the record finish time was a surprise, even to her.
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” Ryan said. “It was a lot of attention to detail and consistency in training that really helped that race be what it was.”
Bi was not far behind, joining Ryan in posting a time good enough to qualify for the NCAA “A” championships. The pair now ranks No. 3 and No. 4 in the event nationally, trailing only U.S. Olympians Katie Ledecky (Stanford) and Leah Smith (Virginia Tech).
In the 1,650-yard freestyle, Bi and Ryan placed 1-2 again — and this time Bi took the victory. She made the “A” cut for the event, while Ryan — a few seconds behind — qualified for the “B” level.
Bi and Ryan also teamed up in the 4×200-yard freestyle relay to post a sub-7:00 time, finishing second in the event and earning another NCAA “A” status. They were aided by junior Gabby DeLoof and sophomore Siobhán Haughey — who also won the individual event to bring home Michigan’s only race victory in Saturday’s action.
“The energy — especially on the relays — feeding off of each other and supporting each other … that was the best part (of the weekend).”
Another “A” level performance came in the 400-yard freestyle relay on Sunday, with the Wolverines clocking in at 3:13.65. But that was only good for third place in the race, on a day that showed just how tough the competition at the meet really was.
Haughey — the 2016 Big Ten champion in the 100-yard freestyle — swam well enough to qualify for the NCAA “A” meet in the event, with a time of 48.31 within six tenths of her personal record. Still, she finished just sixth in the race.
Similarly, freshman Vanessa Kraus broke the Michigan school record in the 200-butterfly, but finished fifth overall in the event finals.
Spending the weekend side by side with some of the nation’s top teams, the Wolverines know they can compete with the best down the line. What’s in store for the end of the season? Ryan doesn’t want to predict anything, but the team is feeling good about its chances.
“It’s hard to predict the future,” Ryan said. “But what I see now is that we’re going to continue to work hard, continue to grow as a team, (and) put everything out there when we swim.”