After capturing 12 of the last 20 Big Ten titles and top-10
finishes in 14 of the last 16 NCAA championships, it would seem
reasonable for even the most powerful of athletic dynasties to
descend into the doldrums of complacency. Such was hardly the case,
however, with coach Jon Urbanchek’s men’s swimming team.

The Wolverines continued to grind out laps well into early
Tuesday evening, as if they were approaching their season with
something to prove – seemingly unaware of their leader’s .869
winning percentage over his stellar 20-year career in Ann
Arbor.

Coming off a 2002-03 campaign in which they won their 12th Big
Ten championship under Urbanchek and turned in a ninth-place finish
at the NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas, the Wolverines will
face one of the toughest schedules in the nation.

With home dates against some of the nation’s perennial
powerhouses, including a Halloween showdown against Florida and
nonconference dual meets with Stanford (Jan. 9-10) and NCAA
runner-up Texas (Nov. 14-15), the Wolverines are sure to have
Canham Natatorium rocking, as they’ll seek vengeance against three
teams that placed ahead of them at NCAAs.

Away from the friendly confines of Canham, Michigan will face
the other two members of last season’s final top-five, with dates
against Georgia and defending National Champion Auburn, which the
Wolverines meet for the first time in a dual meet.

And, as always, they’ll have no cakewalk through the Big Ten,
taking on proven opponents in Purdue, Indiana and Northwestern.
But, with just four conference losses under Urbanchek in the
previous 20 seasons, it seems only fair to expect perfection.

Despite losing both co-captains from a year ago in Jeff Hopwood
and Heath Novak, along with the leadership of Garrett Mangieri and
Tony Kurth, the expectations for this year’s squad remain high in
the eyes of associate head coach and two-time Olympic silver
medalist Eric Namesnik.

Affectionately referred to as “Snik” by team members, he
believes that the leadership of captain and former Michigan Athlete
of the Year Dan Ketchum, alongside the rest of the upperclassmen,
will guide the team in the direction of its ultimate goals.
According to Namesnik, these include a repeat performance of the
Wolverines’ Big Ten title run from a year ago and a top-seven
finish at the national championships.

Yet another factor that promises to make this season even more
intriguing is the upcoming summer Olympics, for which Namesnik
hopes that a number of Wolverines will qualify, following in his
footsteps of greatness on the international stage.

“There have been about seven or eight guys representing the U.S.
and Canada in individual competition,” said Namesnik about the
international experience of the Wolverines.

In addition, this year’s team will face opponents who have
proven themselves on the international level, most notably the trio
of Aaron Peirsol, Ian Crocker and Brendan Hansen from Texas, who
comprised three of the four legs of a gold-medal-winning relay team
in 2000.

That being said, Namesnik is very excited about facing such
worthy competition.

“Most don’t know that there are as many high-level athletes here
as anywhere around,” said Namesnik, with the hope that the Michigan
faithful will show up at Canham to take part in what promises to be
a season full of athletic spectacle.

The road to the NCAA Championships begins tonight with a home
contest against Eastern Michigan.

 

 

 

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