On a Friday evening in Canham Natatorium, when the maize and blue of the Michigan pep band stood side by side with parents sporting scarlet and gray, it was clear that the Buckeyes were in town.
The Michigan women’s swimming and diving team entered the meet boasting a 20-3 all-time record against its arch-rival.
No. 15 Ohio State came into its first Big Ten meet with just one loss on the season. The Wolverines were 2-4 overall and had lost to each ranked opponent they had faced this season.
But whether it be football, basketball or track, when these long-time rivals meet, numbers are all but void. So was the case on Friday night, when No. 25 Michigan outswam the Buckeyes, 150-133.
“Whenever we beat Ohio State, it’s a big win,” said Michigan coach Mike Bottom. “You can talk to any (Michigan) team here, any player. When you beat Ohio State, it’s a big win.”
The Wolverines opened up the meet with a win in the 200-yard medley relay and after a 40-lap battle in the 1,000-yard freestyle from sophomore Adrienne Bicek, one of her two individual victories on the night.
And while the Buckeyes swept the 200-yard freestyle and snagged first-place finishes in a majority of the individual events, several second- and third-place finishes by the Wolverines secured the win. Michigan took both second and third in the 200-yard fly, 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard freestyle and the 200-yard backstroke.
Senior Deirdre Jones, who placed second in both her freestyle events, was a catalyst in Friday’s victory.
“(Swimming against Ohio State) gets us really competitive and makes us almost desperate to win,” Jones said. “Even the people who aren’t big stars on the team are trying to make the effort to get those few points.”
Added Bottom: “This speaks to the future. Most of those (placing finishes) come from young swimmers. We’re a first-year program, if you look at it that way. Some of the things that we’re doing right, their starts, their finishes, their turns — those are all improving as we go.”
A first-place finish from breakout freshman Marni Oldershaw in the 200-yard individual put the Wolverines up by just 17 points headed into the final heat of the meet.
Between the band, the cowbell and the booming crowd, it wasn’t so hard to imagine Canham Natatorium as the Big House on a crisp Saturday afternoon.
“It was an absolutely incredible feeling,” Jones said. “We like to say that the last relay is both where the meet starts and the meet ends, because it usually comes down right to that. We knew that OSU would be competitive with us down to the very end, and it literally came down to that last leg of the relay.”
Three swimmers into the 400-yard relay, lanes four and five were in a dead heat. Off the block, freshman Ali DeLoof sprang out within a millisecond of the Buckeye to her right and the anchors began their glides beneath the surface. And 50.75 seconds later, DeLoof touched the wall, two-tenths of a second ahead of her rival.
“I think you can see it in this team,” Bottom said. “We don’t have a top end, we have a team. We were always battling with the whole team. That is what is most exciting.”
For a Michigan women’s swimming and diving team looking to build toward the future, this win means future victories could be closer than predicted.
“We were ranked eighth last year,” Bottom said. “We don’t know where we’re going to finish this year. But this is Michigan swimming. We’re battling and we’re going to battle.”