Sometimes the satisfaction resides not in how you finished but in how you got there.

The same is true for No. 5 Michigan men’s swimming and diving team. The Wolverines finished third in the Big Ten Championships last weekend behind Indiana and Minnesota at the University Aquatic Center in Minneapolis. Minnesota took the Big Ten Championships for the second consecutive year with an overall team score of 720 while Michigan tallied a total of 482 points.

After a slow start on Thursday, the Wolverines fell to sixth place overall in the standings, but, on Friday, they came back to the pool with a driven mindset to climb in the standings in order to make a push for the crown on Saturday.

Junior Peter Vanderkaay started strong for the Wolverines with a victory in the 400-yard individual medley. Junior Davis Tarwater also helped Michigan, finishing second in the 100-yard butterfly. After falling into sixth place after the initial 25 seconds, he rallied to touch the wall two-tenths of a second behind Northwestern’s Kyle Bubolz.

In Friday’s last event, the Wolverines came through with a critical win in the 800-yard freestyle relay. The team of Peter Vanderkaay, Tarwater, junior Chris DeJong and senior Andrew Hurd finished in 6:21.77, taking first and propelling the Wolverines into fourth place to end the day.

As competition on Saturday began, Michigan coach Bob Bowman felt confident in his team’s ability to continue to climb in the standings and make a run at an overall team championship.

“We woke up and knew that we had a chance to move into third-place in the standings, which is something that we really set as goal for the meet,” Bowman said. “And everyone came in pretty optimistic and focused,”

DeJong started the day off with his first individual victory of the weekend — in the 200-yard backstroke. Also placing in the 200-yard backstroke, freshman Dane Grenda took eighth place with a time of 1:47.01 to give the Wolverines a boost in their point total.

While the day progressed, the Wolverines enjoyed excellent performances from their top swimmers. Peter Vanderkaay continued his strong swimming with a victory in the 1,650-yard freestyle and a time of 14:42.52. Then in the 200-yard butterfly, Tarwater won in 1:44.03 – a pool record – and freshman Alex Vanderkaay took third.

However, the Wolverines’ improved performance as the weekend winded down could not propel Michigan to an overall team championship. While dominating most of the long-distance events, the Wolverines struggled to place swimmers in the finals of the 50-yard freestyle and other sprinting events. Also, Michigan did not score any points in the 3-meter, 5-meter, 7-meter or 10-meter diving finals, which hurt its chances to overcome Indiana and Minnesota.

Although third place may seem like a disappointment, Bowman ­– participating in his first Big Ten Championships – was pleased with his team’s improvement performance from Thursday to Saturday.

“We started off with some adversity on Thursday, but we were able to bounce back and finish really strongly,” Bowman said. “We made a huge rise in the team scores, and I felt that we swam about as well as we could swim.”

As the Wolverines improved, Peter Vanderkaay remained a solid contributor with three individual titles and one relay victory. With his impressive performance, Vanderkaay was named Big Ten Swimmer of the Year and made the All-Big Ten first team along with teammates DeJong, Hurd and Tarwater.

After Peter Vanderkaay, Bowman believed that Grenda had the best overall performance during the weekend. He posted a career-best time in the preliminaries and a NCAA-consideration time in the finals of the 200-yard backstroke.

Shadowing the team’s progression over the Big Ten Championships, Hurd swam better in the latter part of the weekend. After a slow start on Thursday, Hurd swam well Friday with a sixth-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle and a win in the 800-yard freestyle relay. On Saturday, he placed fifth in the 1,650-yard freestyle and fourth in the 400-yard freestyle relay.

While the Wolverines improved during the Big Ten Championships, Bowman knows that the true Championships are yet to come: the NCAA Championships on March 24-26.

“We’re happy with what we did (in the Big Ten Championships), but one of things that we have to remember is that for us, and particularly our top performers, this is the meet to qualify for the NCAA Championships,” Bowman said. “That’s what we’ve been focused on and that’s what our main focus is going to be.”

 

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