COLUMBUS – After the first 900 yards of the 1,650-yard freestyle, the Big Ten Championship announcer informed fans they might witness one of the fastest times in the country.
He could not have been more prophetic.
The moment Emily Brunemann jumped off the starting blocks, it was easy to see she was flying. The junior soared out to an early lead and never looked back. She finished 25 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor, and her win in the freestyle gave fuel to No. 11 Michigan’s second-place Big Ten finish at McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion Feb. 21-23.
With the second-fastest Division I time this season (15:51:29), Brunemann broke her own Big Ten and U-M record by more than nine seconds.
“She trains to swim fast like that,” Michigan coach Jim Richardson said. “It’s great when you have somebody who works that hard, and then watch them come in to a high-pressure environment and they get the job done.”
The crowded McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion got behind Brunemann’s final lengths. Spectators from all 11 schools rose to their feet to reel in her record-smashing performance.
To win the event, Brunemann defeated the two-time defending Big Ten champion, Minnesota’s Yuen Kobayshi.
The two swam against each other many times throughout their careers. After Kobayshi touched the wall, Brunemann reached over the lane divider to congratulate her perennial opponent.
“She’s a great competitor,” Brunemann said. “I always love racing with her.”
Brunemann’s impressive performance was one of many for the Wolverines. Meet champion No. 9 Minnesota edged Michigan by 52 points, but the Wolverines swam well in every event and achieved a total of 51 personal-best times.
It was one of the fastest conference championships in history. There was a new conference record set in all but one of the 17 swimming events.
The Wolverines used that speed to set five new school records and four conference records.
“We were marvelous,” Richardson said. “We’ve never had a better Big Ten performance based on where we were coming into the meet and how we prepared.”
Fifth-year transfer senior Melissa Jaeger came to Columbus ready, and found success in her first and last Big Ten Championships for the Wolverines. In Saturday morning’s 200-yard breaststroke preliminaries, Jaeger broke her own Big Ten record, and went in the evening session to claim the conference title and break her record once again.
“I just stayed calm and relaxed,” Jaeger said. “All that I was thinking was ‘win for Michigan’ and just do my part.”
Heading into the last event of the championships, the 400-yard freestyle relay, Minnesota had already sealed the team title, but the Wolverines weren’t ready to give up.
Fresh off a close second-place finish in the 200-yard breaststroke, senior Justine Mueller headed into the relay fired up for a win.
“I was really happy with my 200-breatstroke swim, but I wanted to win it so bad,” Mueller said. “I got out of that race, and the first thing I thought was ‘I need to be on the 400 relay and use this aggression somewhere.’ “
Mueller anchored the relay and exploded ahead. She glided forcefully through every stroke and touched the wall first to give the relay team of sophomore Margaret Kelly, junior Hannah Smith, Jaeger and Mueller a first-place finish and a new Big Ten record.
Notes: Michigan collected a slew of Big Ten Awards, with Brunemann winning swimmer of the year honors. Diving coach Chris Berg