COLUMBUS – Senior Justine Mueller loves to play catch-up.
But in her final 200-yard breaststroke race as a Wolverine, it wasn’t necessary.
Typically a late charger, Mueller exploded off the starting blocks in the consolation final at the NCAA Championships on Saturday and took an early lead in the first length.
Seeded fifth in the heat, Mueller defied all expectations. She never let up, and hit the wall first with a personal best time (2:10.64).
“My 200 breaststroke never fails me,” Mueller said. “I always do better as the meet goes on . It was a lot of fun to post my best time.”
The senior captain missed the Michigan record by 0.27 seconds, but picked up her third honorable-mention All-American honor of the Championships and the eighth of her career.
After successful freshman and sophomore NCAA Championships, Mueller fell short during her junior year, escaping honorable mention honors for the only time in her collegiate career.
Last season’s missed opportunities fueled Mueller’s hunger during this year’s race. Her determination was obvious even from the stands as she propelled forcefully through every stroke.
“It was justice,” Michigan coach Jim Richardson said. “She never quit. She never stopped trying. She kept working to get better again.”
Relay Remodeled: At the last minute, Richardson took a big chance.
Before the championship lineups were set, Richardson thought the Wolverines had a shot in the 800-yard freestyle relay.
While swimmers can qualify for the NCAA Championships in multiple events, they’re limited to competing in seven races. Relay performances count for twice as many points as individual events, so a strong showing could boost the Wolverines in the team standings.
Richardson saw the potential for more points and pulled fifth-year senior Melissa Jaeger, junior Hannah Smith and sophomore Margaret Kelly from individual events. The trio joined junior Emily Brunemann in the relay.
“That’s what it takes sometimes – to give it up for the team,” Richardson said. “I think that epitomizes the kind of people we have on the team – it’s team first.”
The relay team delivered with a 14th-place finish and battled with conference foe Northwestern, trading leads with each exchange. The Wildcats pulled ahead in the final lengths and edged Michigan in the consolation final, but the Wolverines earned the points they needed.
“We thought we had a chance of placing,” Jaeger said. “It was a risk that we took and (we) fulfilled it. It couldn’t have turned out any better.”
The honorable mention All-American finish earned the Wolverines six points. The extra points were essential, as the Wolverines’ edged 10th-place Indiana in the final team standings by just two points.
Not just for the Olympics: The No. 1 Ohio State synchronized swimming team provided the entertainment for the opening ceremonies of day three of the finals.
The Buckeyes ushered in the final night of competition as they floated and flipped in the diving well set to soft music. The entire McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion rose to its feet to catch a better glimpse of the nation’s best synchronized swimmers.
“They were so great,” Jaeger said. “They set the mood for the night. It was a great way to end the Championships.”