Michigan sophomore Tyler Clary didn’t start swimming at the Southern Methodist Invitational on Saturday quite the way he had one day before.
On Friday, Clary’s first-place finish in the 400-yard individual medley broke both the pool and meet records set in 2004 by three-time Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte.
On Saturday, he was cruising through the first length of his 200-yard backstroke race when he hit his head on the wall. Quickly, he turned over and pushed off on his stomach, a mistake that disqualified him.
But the way Clary finished the swim, racing to finish first even though he knew he’d been disqualified, inspired the No. 2 Michigan men’s swimming and diving team on their way to a first-place team finish at the competition in Dallas.
Clary shook off the disqualification by breaking another set of meet and pool records set by Olympian Eric Shanteau in the 200-yard individual medley.
Later that day, senior co-captain Matt Patton stood up on the block for his race when his goggle straps snapped. With no time to get a new pair, he threw them on the ground and was forced to swim without them.
But like Clary, Patton swam hard and finished a close race in third. Michigan coach Mike Bottom called the two the “swimmers of the meet,” and the setbacks were so atypical that they became rallying points for the the Wolverines.
The meet featured a six-team field that included No. 6 Florida, No. 14 North Carolina, No. 20 SMU and No. 21 Southern California. It marked the second consecutive week Michigan has beaten the country’s sixth-ranked team. Last week, the Wolverines defeated then-No. 6 Tennessee in a dual meet.
It was also Michigan’s third straight victory over the the Gators this season. The Wolverines defeated then-No. 4 Florida in a dual meet in October and again at the U.S. Short Course Nationals meet in December. This weekend, the Gators kept many of the races tight but the Wolverines won the close swims.
The invite had a special format that allowed each team to bring just eight swimmers and one diver to the competition. Each event featured a championship and a consolation final, with one swimmer from each team in each heat. Bottom’s goal was to have the smaller group of swimmers at the meet operate better as a team and support each other.
“Today, the idea was to practice our peripheral vision,” he said. “And that means don’t just look out for yourself, open yourself up and ask yourself, ‘What do my teammates need right now and how can I help the other guys around me?’ ”
Clearly, that small-team support translated to better swimming. An energetic group of swimmers on the pool deck jumped as they cheered each other on during each race. Clary described the atmosphere on deck as fun and positive. Overall, Michigan won both the championship and consolation heats in seven of the 12 individual events.
Like Clary, Patton also won a pair of individual events. Patton won the 200-yard freestyle and continued his dominance in the 500-yard freestyle by taking the event for the third straight meet.
“The team’s positive attitude definitely held strong,” Patton said. “With the smaller group of guys, I think we were all really supportive of each other and it definitely showed in our races. We’re going to try and bring that whole attitude back to Ann Arbor.”
Bottom was particularly impressed with the team’s finishes in the tightest races of the meet. Executing strong finishes are something the Wolverines have been working on in practice — and it showed. Eleven of the 19 heats they won were decided by less than one second, including the 200-yard medley relay where the team of sophomore Neal Kennedy, juniors Alon Mandel and Chris Brady and senior co-captain Bobby Savulich touched out the Gators by six-hundredths of a second.
In addition to winning the invite, Michigan has won the collegiate division of the USA Swimming Short Course Nationals meet and has an overall dual meet record of 4-1, with its only loss coming against No. 1 Texas. The team moved up from No. 4 to No. 2 in last week’s national polls, jumping ahead of Stanford and defending national champion Arizona. But the Wolverines said despite the difficult competition, the victory was simply a measuring stick for their training progress.
“This win to us would probably not matter as much as a dual meet with Texas or one of the other more highly ranked teams,” Clary said. “That’s not to say that we weren’t keeping an eye on Florida all day, but we used this meet more to sharpen our skills.”