For the second straight year, the Michigan men’s swimming team boarded a team bus with two NCAA Championship trophies.
But this time, instead of taking the crown as a team, the Wolverines placed fourth at the NCAA Championships, with senior Connor Jaeger and sophomore Dylan Bosch claiming individual national titles.
No. 2 Michigan entered the meet knowing it would be tough to live up to its resounding victory in 2013. But with the sheer number of swimmers No. 1 Florida, No. 3 California and No. 6 Texas had competing, it quickly became apparent that a repeat would be out of reach.
The Golden Bears separated themselves from the field on the final day to win the title with 468.5 points, ahead of the Longhorns (387), the Gators (387) and the Wolverines (310).
Michigan underperformed the first two days, but it was hard to tell with the way it cheered for every lap at the meet’s final session.
Nowhere was that more evident than in Bosch’s NCAA-record-setting win in the 200-yard butterfly.
Entering the race as the favorite, Bosch left no doubters in the Jamail Texas Swimming Center, powering himself to victory in 1:39.33. Along with breaking Tom Shields’ NCAA record, Bosch also set a U.S. Open record previously shared by Shields and Michael Phelps.
The Wolverines erupted on the pool-deck, drowning out all other noise in ecstasy for their teammate.
“I love Dylan Bosch,” Jaeger tweeted moments after Bosch touched the wall. “That is the single most excited I’ve ever been after a race. So proud of my boy and to call you my friend.”
That’s a weighty statement from a three-time national champion and an Olympian.
“(Bosch) has thought about this every day for the past 365 days,” Jaeger said. “He knew what he wanted to do, and he did it. He was inspired.”
But despite being seeded near the top in many events, Michigan (7-0 Big Ten, 10-1 overall) couldn’t duplicate its performances from a record-breaking Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor three weeks earlier.
“When we had the Big Ten Championships at our home, we wanted to make sure we represented Michigan at Michigan,” said Michigan coach Mike Bottom. “We really executed there. But sometimes it’s really difficult to re-taper and re-shave for NCAA’s after such an emotional win.”
The times the Wolverines posted on the first two days were still nothing to scoff at. Senior Kyle Whitaker was barely a second off an NCAA record in the 200-yard individual medley, and junior Richard Funk swam a blistering 51.96 in the 100-yard breaststroke.
But at the NCAA Championships, everyone brings their best, and Michigan fell behind by nearly 100 points after the first two days to the Golden Bears and Longhorns.
So the Wolverines adjusted. Bottom shifted his team’s focus from trying to make up all the points at once to swimming each race for the team.
Once that happened, things began shifting back in the Wolverines’ favor. Jaeger, who placed third in Friday’s 500-yard freestyle, defended his national title in the 1,650-yard freestyle, winning the event in 14:29.27.
“He felt like he let the team down in the 500,” Bottom said. “He was apologizing to the whole team this morning. … They really hold each other accountable and want to do it for each other. He was inspired, and he swam that way.”
The stellar performances by Jaeger and Bosch were indicative not only of the talent Michigan brought to the meet, but also of the way its swimmers handle disappointment.
“We made peace with (not winning the team championship),” Bosch said “We’ll be back next year.”
It can be hard to handle the emotions of coming up just short. But don’t tell that to the Wolverines. They’re too busy celebrating their teammates and their trophies.