COLLEGE STATION, Texas — After the first day of the men’s swimming and diving NCAA Championships, Michigan coach Mike Bottom thought sophomore Tyler Clary was a little too “wound up” during his race.
Sure, Clary lowered his personal-best time by over a second and a half and broke the school record en route to a second-place finish in 200-yard individual medley.
But Bottom knew the sophomore could do better.
The next day, Clary swam the 400-yard individual medley, an event in which he already held the NCAA record. He not only swam better than the day before — he swam better than his former training teammate, Olympian Michael Phelps. Clary dropped over two seconds off his previous record-setting time and smashed Phelps’s 2006 American record on his way to winning his first individual NCAA title.
“It absolutely hurt like hell,” Clary said of the final laps of his race. “But looking up at the board after that race and seeing what I went was just complete ecstasy. All of the training all year had just culminated into one moment, and all I can say is it was awesome.”
Michigan finished seventh in the overall team standings with 248 points, with Auburn winning the national title (526). It was the Wolverines’ ninth consecutive top-10 NCAA finish.
The meet got off to an unfamiliar start for Michigan, which had lost only one meet the entire season back in November against then No. 1 Texas. The majority of the team’s races ended with personal-best times and even school records, but after the prelims for many events, several Wolverines found themselves watching the finals from the bleachers instead of swimming in them.
Bottom said his team was “shell-shocked” by the meet’s intense competition. But the Wolverines pointed to junior Chris Brady’s butterfly leg of the 200-yard medley relay at the start of day two as a critical turning point.
“To be honest, we were a little down after the first day,” freshman Dan Madwed said. “Mike told us we weren’t swimming as well as we should be, and when we saw Chris had the fastest butterfly leg of any relay, it really inspired us all to do well.”
And the Wolverines, led by Clary, did finish strong. Clary won a second individual NCAA championship and set another NCAA record in the 200-yard backstroke, becoming the first Wolverine to win the national title in that event since Ed Bartsch in 1963. He was also named national Swimmer of the Year at the conclusion of the meet.
Madwed finished 12th in the 200-yard freestyle, and Brady set schools records as he took fourth in the 100-yard butterfly and the 400-yard freestyle relay, consisting of senior co-captain Bobby Savulich, Brady, Clary and redshirt senior Evan Ryser, took sixth.
One of the more emotional moments of the meet came during the 1,650-yard freestyle. As senior co-captain Matt Patton stepped on the block for his last race as a Wolverine, the entire Michigan team lined up along the pool deck and cheered him on for his 14-plus minute race. He finished first in his heat and swam his best time by three seconds. While the parents in the stands and his teammates whistled, cheered and clapped, the notoriously quiet Patton simply nodded his head and pointed his finger toward his team. Patton’s sixth-place finish earned him All-American honors.
Though the Wolverines had initially hoped for a top-four finish after finishing sixth last season, Patton said the team’s entire season must be considered in order to put the team’s performance at this meet into perspective.
“There are so many things we as a team had to overcome,” he said. “We lost our best swimmer, really, when (Scott Spann) transferred to Texas. We graduated a two-time NCAA champion (Alex Vanderkaay), and we lost our coach (Bob Bowman). But we all swam better than last year, and that defines what this year’s team was all about.”
Taking some time to reflect at the end of his first season as Michigan’s head coach, Bottom said he was happy with the team’s development but called the meet “very educational” for his own approach to coaching his team.
“This year has been a time where I’ve sat and watched and next year is going to be a time of action,” Bottom said. “The guys will be seeing a different Mike. The team will be reminded daily about what this meet was like. It gave them all a new perspective on their swimming, but if we are going to be the team I know we can be, they need to be reminded of this experience every day.”