Two of the most decorated members of the Michigan women’s swimming and diving team competed in their final meet as Wolverines this weekend at the NCAA Championships held in West Lafayette, IN.
Fifth-year senior Emily Brunemann and senior Margaret Kelly had hopes of returning to Ann Arbor with a pair of individual national titles, they didn’t but both earned All-American honors.
The two led Michigan to a 15th-place finish (76 points) while Florida (382) edged out Stanford (379.5) for the NCAA team title.
The last time the Wolverines had an individual national champion was two years ago when Brunemann registered a victory in the 1,650-yard freestyle.
Brunemann found herself in a familiar place, in the final of the 1,650-yard freestyle vying for a second career NCAA title in her signature event. A victory would have erased memories of a disappointing Big Ten meet, in which she finished second and third in the 500 and 1,650-yard freestyle respectively.
Brunemann took an early lead in the B Final in the event. She blistered the first 200 yards in 1:53.05, two seconds off her pace in the prelims for the 500-yard freestyle.
But the fifth-year senior had a disadvantage swimming in the consolation final. She could only swim her best time and hope it would hold up against the field in the A Final. Brunemann touched the wall second in her heat a second and a half behind Lauren Boyle of California. But the effort was enough for fifth place overall and All-American honors.
It was that determination and effort that Michigan coach Jim Richardson admires most about Brunemann, whom he considers the best distance swimmer in program history.
“She did a great job halfway through the race but she wasn’t able to hold on,” Richardson said. “She went for it. There were other swimmers who swam strategic races. But her goal was to swim a time faster than she swam before.”
Kelly, Michigan’s most versatile swimmer, earned All-American distinctions in both the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard butterfly, placing sixth in both races. Her performance in the 100-yard butterfly is the fastest ever in the Big Ten in a legal swim suit. She also helped the 400 and 800-yard freestyle relays finish in 11th place, good for honorable mention All-American honors.
“It’s hard to come back after we tapered for Big Tens,” Kelly said. “It’s kind of a hard to come back and perform just as well as we did there. I think everyone did a good job.”
The two represent opposite paths in their journey to donning a Michigan swim cap. Kelly was a standout swimmer from Ann Arbor Pioneer High School and arguably one of the best recruits in program history. She was a seven-time All-American swimmer during her senior year of high school, and she helped Pioneer to four state championships.
Brunemann, on the other hand, was not a “blue chip” recruit as Richardson describes from Crescent Springs, Kentucky. Despite not being highly touted coming in, it didn’t take long for Brunemann to find her stroke. As a freshman she placed fourth and fifth place in the 1,650-yard freestyle and 400-yard individual medley respectively at the Big Ten meet.
“I never thought coming in that I would have done as much as I’ve done in college,” Brunemann said. “I can’t walk away with any disappointment because I’ve exceeded throughout my five years here and I’ve exceeded expectations that I’ve had of myself.”
Although their careers are complete at the university, there’s no question that the two have secured their legacy as some of the best swimmers in program history.
“You know when you put them in a race it’s going to take probably one of the top two or three people in the country to beat them,” Richardson said. “There aren’t many swimmers around like that.”