Gameplans are subject to change at any second in any sport.
So when the Michigan women”s swimming and diving team made lineup switches the night before its meet against No. 13 Notre Dame on Saturday, it wasn”t really a surprise.
In Michigan”s 134-106 victory over No. 16 Northwestern on Friday, freshman Amy McCullough swam a near flawless race in the 1,000-yard freestyle, clocking in at 9:57.12, 15 seconds better than her next competitor. In fact, it was good enough to convince coach Jim Richardson to alter his roster for the 1,650 free against the Fighting Irish.
“We had some decisions to make after (Friday) night about whether we were going to swim a lineup that was going to allow us to maximize our full potential or whether we were going to give somebody a chance to qualify for NCAAs,” Richardson said. “Our strongest meet against Notre Dame would have been to swim McCullough in the 200 freestyle and (Emily-Clare) Fenn in the mile. But Amy swam a really good 1,000 (free Friday) night, and it was so good we had to change things around to at least give her a chance to try to make the NCAA mark.”
The chance would be all McCullough needed, as she led throughout the race and took an insurmountable lead over her teammate Fenn, who finished second in the freestyle mile.
With no one even close to her, McCullough had to rely on those outside the pool to keep her going during her final 500 yards.
“I could see Jim and (assistant coach) Stefanie (Kerska) on the side of the pool, and I was watching them get really excited,” McCullough said. “I knew what I had to hold to get my cut and I was really trying to hold that.”
With 100 yards to go and the sound in Canham deafening with cheers, McCullough swam the final stretch in 28.8 seconds to give her a NCAA automatic qualifying time of 16:28.8, which makes her one of four Wolverines guaranteed to make the trip to Austin, Texas for the NCAA Championships in late March. The other three are Lindsay Carlberg (200-yard backstroke), Annie Weilbacher (100 butterfly) and Kelli Stein, whose consideration time in the 200 breaststroke is a lock for the Championships because it was just .2 seconds off from being an automatic time.
What was most impressive during this weekend was not simply McCullough”s win in the 1,650 yard freestyle, but that she won in two more individual events including a dramatic win in the 500 free on Saturday and was a part of two first-place relay teams.
“It was a long day today,” McCullough said. On Saturday “morning I definitely didn”t feel as good as I did (Friday). So I had to work through that and swim through it. That”s what these meets are for, to toughen me up. In three weeks from now (at the Big Ten Championships), I”ve got three straight days of swimming, so these get me ready to go.”
Michigan (3-5), with its lineup altered and with its swimmers fatigued from the victory over Northwestern, was no match for the depth of Notre Dame (7-0), which had a day of rest going into the meet.
Though the final score of 175-124 may not have shown it, the Wolverines kept close the entire meet and still earned seven firsts on the day, six by those who qualified for NCAAs.
“I thought Carlberg going back-to-back was just steady and as solid as a rock (in the 200-yard) backstroke,” Richardson said. “Weilbacher came in and swam a great 100 fly and Stein stepped up and won both breaststrokes. Our swimmers who are NCAA-caliber were consistent both days. I like what I saw out there for the most part.”
The Wolverines will now go into a break period to train for the Big Ten Championships which will be held in Ann Arbor Feb. 20-23. They will use this time to hopefully get their other swimmers up to the level that their four NCAA qualifiers are at.