FEDERAL WAY, Wash. – In the corner of the pool deck, Michigan coach Bob Bowman stood silently, staring at lane 3 with his meet program covering his mouth. In the stands, the Michigan fans were on their feet, frantically cheering, “A-V-K.”
And in the pool, senior Alex Vanderkaay reached forward, touched the wall and finished his career as a Wolverine by defending his national title in the 400-yard individual medley.
Vanderkaay dominated the race from start to finish, and at one point he led by over three seconds. His victory was Michigan’s only individual title at the NCAA men’s swimming and diving championships this weekend.
“It feels really good to bring one home for Michigan,” he said. “I thought everyone would be out a little faster, but I just held on to it during the breaststroke and in the freestyle, I left everything I had in the pool.”
The three-day meet was held at the King County Aquatic Center just outside of Seattle and 48 teams made up the field. Overall, the Wolverines placed sixth, making it their eighth-consecutive season with a top-ten finish. Arizona finished in first place, snapping Auburn’s streak of five consecutive national championships and becoming the first first-time champion in 26 years.
In addition to Vanderkaay’s win in the 400-yard individual medley, Michigan had several outstanding performances. Sophomore Scott Spann placed second in the 200-yard breaststroke and fourth in the 100-yard breaststroke, while junior Matt Patton touched fourth in the 1,650-yard freestyle and seventh in the 500-yard freestyle. Michigan’s best finish in a relay was fourth place in the 400-yard medley relay.
While the Wolverines had a solid three days of competition, they were sometimes unable to compete well in the races they won easily at the conference championships a month ago. After the meet, Bowman said his team had a tough time recovering from their success at the conference meet.
“That’s just how it is in this sport,” Bowman said. “When you really prepare for one event and you spend a whole season focusing on it and you do it and you do it emotionally and you do it really well, it’s very hard to bounce back.”
Spann also felt that winning the Big Ten meet hindered his team’s ability to swim faster.
“Coming off such a good Big Ten meet, it’s hard to follow up on that just a month later,” Spann said. “As much as everyone is trying to get pumped up, I’m still a little tired emotionally.”
Bowman said the teams that preformed best at this meet were teams that had emphasized preparing for the NCAA championships rather than for their conference meet. Even after the disappointing results, Bowman defended his team’s approach to the Big Ten meet and the NCAA championships.
“We did everything exactly like I would do it,” Bowman said. “I will do it again until we’re good enough to not have our best people saved for the conference meet and really focus on the NCAA meet. It’s just a natural part of the evolution of the program.”
For now, the Wolverines can be happy with themselves. A 10-1 season record, a Big Ten Championship and a 6th place national finish are certainly respectable achievements for the program. But Spann summed it up well when he said, “we have more to shoot for next year.”