If the Michigan men’s swimming and diving team’s commanding performance at the Husky Invitational is a preview of this year’s NCAA Championship meet, which will be held at the same pool, then the Wolverines are on the right track.

The three-day meet was held outside Seattle at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center, which will host the NCAA swimming and diving championship meet in March.

Michigan led the meet from beginning to end and finished first in a 10-team field, tallying 479 more points than the second-place finisher, No. 11 California.

Michigan (3-0 Big Ten, 5-1 overall) earned seven runaway victories in the 20 swim events. The fourth-ranked Wolverines had six of the top eight finishers in the 500-yard freestyle and the 200-yard freestyle. The team continued to dominate the 400-yard individual medley, an event it has not lost all season. Senior co-captain Alex Vanderkaay, who was the 2007 NCAA Champion in the event, touched first (3:47.05), followed .82 seconds later by sophomore André Schultz, and freshman Tyler Clary placed third.

Michigan coach Bob Bowman has been pleased with the improvements the two underclassmen have made this season, especially in the 400-yard IM.

“I’m really happy with it because I know how hard they’ve been training,” Bowman said. “I definitely think they’ll be finalists (at the NCAA Championships).”

The meet concluded with the 1,650-yard freestyle, which was won by Michigan junior Matt Patton (14:49.09). Patton won the event by more than 44 seconds and still managed to drop more than 30 seconds from his last swim two weeks ago despite having to finish the race without any competition pushing him to improve.

“I just try and keep my stroke together and focus on my technique,” Patton explained. “That’s the whole point of the race. I just kept my head down and pushed through the pain and eventually finish the race.”

Patton’s time in the 1,650-yard freestyle marked Michigan’s 25th NCAA qualifying time of the meet.

The meet gave the Wolverines valuable practice in the venue they will later compete in for the NCAA title.

“It’s definitely great practice to be in that pool. That’s the reason we went to this meet,” Patton said. “Now we’re going to be swimming against teams who haven’t raced in this pool, so we’re definitely going into NCAAs with an edge from the experience of this meet.”

Michigan was the clear favorite to win in a field that included no other top-10 teams and seven unranked squads. The lack of sufficient competition actually presented a challenge the Wolverines had to overcome by themselves.

“The atmosphere was a little relaxed at first because we were definitely the best team there and there was really no pressure to perform,” Patton said. “Everyone on the team had to put the pressure on each other and get everyone to swim faster.”

The team will not compete again until Jan. 12 when it hosts a dual meet with Indiana at Canham Natatorium. Over the semester break the team will take their annual training trip. This year, the Wolverines will work at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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