For Michigan”s women”s swimming and diving coach Jim Richardson, this season couldn”t have been much sweeter. His team, depleted by injuries since day one, has shown the type of teamwork and work ethic that he has never seen before at Michigan. And for all the success his team has had on the scoreboard this year, the personal battles his team has won are what he will most remember about this year”s squad.
“I”ve told this team from December on that we”ve had faster teams, we”ve had deeper teams, but we”ve never had a better team than this one,” Richardson said. “I think we”ve had some very fast teams in the past that I would not call great teams. Very talented, yes they were able to score a lot of points, win conference championships and finish very high at NCAAs.
“But this team has an understanding of commitment to themselves and to each other that some of those other teams didn”t have.”
And while this team hasn”t produced a high number of record-setting swimmers like in years past, this team is no slouch when it hits the pool. The Wolverines are already sending four representatives Lindsay Carlberg, Annie Weilbacher, Amy McCullough and Kelli Stein to Austin, Texas this March for the NCAA Championships, and they are looking to have more qualify at the Big Ten Championships, Feb. 20-23.
The four NCAA qualifiers, no matter what they do in Austin, have already left their legacy in another school”s pool this season.
In January, Weilbacher, Carlberg, Stein and Laura Kaznecki set the pool record at Michigan State”s Charles McCaffree Pool in the 400-yard medley relay. McCullough also set a pool record in the 1,000 freestyle with a time of 10:00.97
McCullough, a freshman, and sophomore Emily-Clare Fenn have also formed one of the most dominant distance freestyle duos in Michigan history, as one of the two has captured first-place in all but three meets this season.
But what makes this team stand out is not just its accomplishments in the pool, but who the swimmers are outside of it.
“They are a wonderful group of young women,” Richardson said. “They represent this university so well in the classroom and on Friday and Saturday nights. We haven”t had a team that”s done a better job at being a representative of what college athletics is all about.”
One quality that this team has that many do not is its ability to adjust to adversity. Injuries took away its 2000 Olympic gold medalist in Samantha Arsenault and NCAA All-American Traci Valasco, but the Wolverines did not concern themselves with “moaning and groaning about what could”ve, would”ve and should”ve been,” Richardson said. Instead, “they”re engaged and involved” in making this team the best it can be.
Richardson has had the pleasure of watching a new breed of Michigan swimmers develop this year.
The primary focus is no longer just to win Big Tens or place well at NCAAs, but instead to develop into a team strengthened by the concept of teamwork in this traditionally individual sport.
“Our team is so close and we train so hard,” McCullough said. “College swimming is so much tougher than I”ve ever had to work before. But this has been the most fun in a season I”ve ever had, and I”m looking forward to three more.”