When the No. 4 Michigan men’s swimming and diving team took on No 1. Texas on Halloween, Michigan volunteer coach Jon Urbanchek stood on one side of the deck dressed in a cowboy costume.
On the other side, former Michigan swimmer Scott Spann waited for the meet to start wearing his new orange Texas swim cap.
After training with the Wolverines for the last two years, it was Spann’s first appearance at Canham Natatorium as a Longhorn since transferring from Michigan to Texas in the spring.
For the Wolverines, Urbanchek’s outfit was a joke, but there was nothing funny about watching their former teammate compete as a rival and win the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke events. Texas won the meet 221.5- 166.5.
Michigan senior co-captain Matt Patton didn’t talk to Spann, and although he wishes him well, he admitted it’s hard for him to support someone that left his team.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” he said. “If he was still at Michigan, we might have won the meet and it’s really hard to look at things that way.”
The two-day competition included three teams: Michigan, Texas and No. 14 Indiana. Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 2-1 overall) split the double-dual meet with the loss against the Longhorns and an easy victory over Indiana. The Wolverines crushed the Hoosiers 227-151 in their first Big Ten meet of the season. Texas also defeated Indiana.
But while the score indicated that Michigan lost to Texas, you could barely tell by talking to the Wolverines. On the pool deck after the meet, Patton was visibly disappointed by the loss, but was far more encouraged than upset by his team’s performance.
“We definitely made a big jump in the right direction this weekend,” he said. “Texas came in here this weekend and I guarantee you, they did not expect the meet to be that close. We’re making the kind of progress we want to and teams around the country are going to start recognizing who we are.”
The meet was the second for the Wolverines with new head coach Mike Bottom. Michigan won its first meet of the season two weeks ago, defeating then-No.4 Florida. Going over the results as his team warmed down, Bottom said he was proud of the way the team swam. He said the swimmers are beginning to look past some Big Ten teams and should remain focused on competing with the nation’s most elite teams.
“The Indiana meet turned out to be not much of a battle,” he said. “I think (the Wolverines are) still forming an identity at this point. I don’t think they do see themselves as the fourth-ranked team in the country. They see themselves as a team on the move.”
Spann’s departure from Michigan left a big gap for the Wolverines to fill in breaststroke events. Bottom was particularly impressed with the performance of sophomore Neal Kennedy, who was not a breaststroker before this season, but finished just 0.38 seconds behind Spann in the 100-yard breaststroke.
Texas gained its biggest point advantage over Michigan in the diving events. Senior Kyle Schroeder was the highest-placing Wolverine, finishing fourth in the platform competition and the one- and three-meter springboard events. The Longhorns captured two of the top three scores in all three events.
Sophomore Tyler Clary and junior André Schultz both had a strong meet, winning three events each. Clary won the 400-yard individual medley and tied twice for first, once with Texas swimmer Ricky Berens in the 200-yard individual medley and then again in the 200-yard backstroke with Schultz. In addition to the 200-yard backstroke, Schultz won the 100-yard backstroke and the 200-yard freestyle.
Schultz said he felt the team has more energy to put into their races than it had last year under former coach Bob Bowman. He pointed to the kind of training the team is doing with Bottom as the difference.
“I’m swimming way faster at this point in the season than last year, so I’m really happy,” he said. “Mike (Bottom) said we wouldn’t be in better shape, we’d just be in different shape, and that’s exactly how I feel. We’re not as tired and beat down as we were with Bob (Bowman). We’re still tired, but we can put a lot more into our races.”
Clary is optimistic about the Wolverines’ future, but he emphasized that the team cannot be satisfied with just keeping the meet close.
“We were happy we stuck with Texas,” he said. “And at this point, we’re going from a Big Ten team to an NCAA team. But we need to we keep getting sharper technically and focus on competing with the top teams so we can reach our goal of finishing in the top three or five at the NCAA championships.”