As the pre-meet hype and anticipation swirled through the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Natatorium in Gainesville, Fla., for the Michigan women’s swimming and diving team’s season opener against Florida, the fans came in wondering which of the 15 former All-Americans featured in the dual meet would grab their attention.
The crowd soon discovered Florida’s Caroline Burckle was reluctant to share the spotlight after the first two events. Sixteen-time All-Americans tend to do that.
Burckle placed first in four individual events (400-meter freestyle, 200-meter freestyle, 100-meter breast-stroke, and the 100-meter freestyle) and played a role in four team relay victories (200-meter freestyle, 400-meter medley, 200-meter medley and 800-meter freestyle), leading Florida to defeat Michigan 354-285 in the weekend meet. The Wolverines (0-1 overall) are now 0-7 all-time against the Gators in dual meets.
Burckle’s dominant weekend display of versatility awed the crowd and left a big impression on Michigan coach Jim Richardson, who expects the senior from Louisville, Ky. to assume a bigger and brighter stage.
“I think she’s got a great shot at making the Olympic team,” Richardson said. “She’s got terrific range as a freestyler, and she’s very good (in the individual medley) and breast stroke. You can’t really root against Caroline. She’s a winner, and I’m just really glad that we’ve got some people who can race with her.”
One of those swimmers was senior Justine Mueller, who was neck-and-neck with Burckle in the 100-meter Breast Stroke and finished just .41 seconds behind Burckle at the wall, settling for second place on Saturday. The senior didn’t go home empty-handed, however, placing first in the 400-meter individual medley and the 200-meter breaststroke.
Another bright spot for the Wolverines was junior Emily Brunemann, who qualified for NCAAs by winning the 1500-meter freestyle with a time of 16:47.47, more than three seconds faster than Florida’s Laurabeth Guenthner, who finished second. Brunemann’s victory is particularly noteworthy because few swimmers tally an NCAA qualifier so early in the season.
“We’ve had very few people in the history of the program qualify in the NCAAs in their first dual meet of the season, much less in a long-course meet,” Richardson noted. “(If) you win an event against Florida, you’re a pretty doggone good swimmer.”
Michigan carried the momentum set by Brunemann’s performance, finishing first in four out of the last five events of the weekend. The final race was the 400-meter freestyle relay, won by Michigan’s ‘A’ squad of junior Hannah Smith, junior Payton Johnson, fifth-year senior Melissa Jaeger and sophomore Margaret Kelly.
The first-place finish was Michigan’s lone victory out of five relay events of the weekend, a key factor in the loss. With the Wolverines’ inexperience, Richardson knows the relay squads will need some fine-tuning between now and the NCAA Championships in March.
“We weren’t going to start the season with relays that were the way they were last year,” Richardson said. “We graduated two All-Americans (Kaitlyn Brady and Lindsey Smith). So we’ve got a lot of development to do this year with everybody, if our relays are going to have a chance to do well in the NCAAs.”