It’s one thing that the Michigan women’s swimming and diving team has that not many other swimming teams can brag about.
The Wolverines’ depth allowed them to compete in multiple meets over the weekend, taking first place overall at the Eastern Michigan Invitational in Ypsilanti while also taking a total of five top-10 individual finishes at the U.S. Open in San Antonio, Texas.
While the majority of the team was capturing its second straight team victory at Eastern Michigan, three qualifying swimmers accompanied by Michigan coach Jim Richardson ventured to Texas to compete on a national level. Sophomores Lindsey Smith and Susan Gilliam took turns as top performers, collecting five total top-10 finishes, giving each of them NCAA-consideration times and qualifying them for both the World Championship Trials and the Summer National Championships.
Smith had a top-10 finish on each of the three days of competition. She started off Thursday with a seventh-place finish in the 50-meter freestyle, and then took ninth in the 200-meter freestyle and 10th in the 100-meter freestyle on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Gilliam showed similar success, using her endurance to place high in the longer freestyle events. She took sixth place in the 400-meter freestyle on Thursday and rounded out the competition on Saturday with another impressive finish: seventh in the 800-meter freestyle.
Senior Erica Watts, the other long-distance traveler for the Wolverines, made the trip but failed to place in the top-10 against the strong nationwide butterfly competition she faced. Watts came in at 35th in the 200-meter butterfly and 45th in the 100-meter butterfly.
One of the hardest parts of the journey was being without the bulk of their teammates, who were taking care of business in Michigan.
“It’s certainly a little tougher for a small group to go away because there’s a lot less team energy,” Richardson said. “One of the great aspects of our team is the energy we draw from each other. They miss a team full of people there cheering for them. That kind of energy is special.”
The team energy for Michigan was clearly present in Ypsilanti this weekend where the Wolverines, led by assistant coach Stefanie Kerksa, stole the show. After the first day of competition, Michigan sat poised to take the title, resting in second behind the tournament hosts. The Wolverines (2-0 Big Ten, 2-1) took first place in 11 of the final 13 events to clinch the tournament for the second consecutive year. With 1,091 points at the end of competition, Michigan finished atop the list of nine teams participating.
“I have a lot of confidence in Stefanie,” Richardson said. “So sending the team with her to Eastern, I (didn’t) think (they would) miss a beat. I know they’ll be well coached and well taken care of. I’m fortunate to have someone like her to be able to trust and rely on.”
With Kerksa standing in as coach, the Wolverines unleashed a barrage of incredible performances. They came out with a spring in their step on day two, ready to pounce on the Eagles and swim away as tournament champs by taking first place in the first five events. They won the 200-yard medley relay with the team of junior Carolina Sierra, freshman Valeria Silva, sophomore Kaitlyn Brady and senior Tracy Egnatuk. This group came in almost four seconds before the Michigan ‘B’ relay team that came in second. Next, freshman Justine Mueller and Brady led consecutive sweeps for the Wolverines in the 400-yard individual medley and the 100-yard butterfly, respectively. Adding to Michigan’s early success were first-place finishes by junior Abby Seskevics in the 200-yard freestyle and Silva in the 100-yard breaststroke.
Other notable performances were first-place finishes on Friday by Brady in the 200-yard backstroke and Mueller in the 200-yard breaststroke. The two also had another pair of victories the next day, with Brady taking the 50-yard freestyle and Mueller taking the 200-yard individual medley.
Richardson, although happy to win as a team, was more pleased with the individual results and how well each of his athletes swam when given the opportunity.
“I’m not concerned about points,” Richardson said. “I’m just watching the swims and seeing what each person is doing well and what they could do better. Addressing those things in practices the following week is important. I really don’t think about winning meets. It’s fun to win and all that. I just don’t think about it a whole lot.”