You couldn’t have asked for a more exciting championship.
The Big Ten women’s swimming and diving conference title was
up for grabs in the final event of the final day of the meet. But
the Michigan 400-yard freestyle relay team of freshman Lindsey
Smith, senior captain Anne Weilbacher, sophomore Abby Seskvics and
junior Amy McCullough showed that it wanted the crown more than any
of the other 10 teams. By winning the relay title, the team
concluded the meet with a final score of 604.5, only 14 points
ahead of second-place Penn State. In doing so, the Wolverines
earned their 14th conference title.

“I was genuinely happy for them,” Michigan coach Jim
Richardson said. “I’m glad that they do get a material
reward for this incredible experience. That doesn’t always
happen. And even though their conference rings will probably
collect dust in a drawer 10 years down the line, none of them will
forget the emotion, excitement and energy of this moment. It will
be with them for the rest of their lives.”

The meet, held in Minneapolis, was the closest championship
ever. Heading into the final day of races, with just two events
remaining, the Nittany Lions were ahead of the Wolverines by 34
points. In the second-to-last event, the one-meter diving
competition, Michigan’s divers came to the team’s
rescue, closing the point gap between the two teams. Led by senior
Tealin Keleman and junior Alexis Goolik, who placed fourth and
seventh, respectively, the divers supplied Michigan with the
necessary boost to bring the Wolverines within two points of Penn
State’s lead heading into the 400-yard freestyle relay, the
final event of the championships.

“After the tower diving we were, as we say down south,
‘within spittin’ distance,’ ” Richardson
said. “The relay knew they had to do well. As long as they
came in two positions ahead of Penn State, the title was
ours.”

The conference win was determined as Michigan’s relay team
placed first and the Nittany Lions’ squad came in seventh.
McCullough, the relay’s anchor, became the Wolverines’
saving grace when she dove in, leading the team to a title and an
NCAA-qualifying finish.

“It was an incredible spot to be in because we had all the
control,” McCullough said. “Penn State was in first
before us, so we got to see their time. After watching the race we
knew we could beat them, so all we needed to do was to have safe
starts. I don’t think we even talked about swimming fast, all
of us knew what we had to do.”

After the relay, the team had won the title.

“When I got out of the pool after the relay I fell into my
team,” McCullough said. “All I wanted to do was
collapse on the ground. After all of our hard work this season it
was such a great way to end it especially since we weren’t
supposed to win the meet. I couldn’t believe it, I still
can’t.”

Just before swimming the anchor on the last relay, McCullough
claimed her first career individual Big Ten title in the 100-yard
freestyle. It was the team’s third individual win at the
meet. McCullough, who has battled an ankle injury throughout the
season, was not considered the favorite for the race.

“Amy has always had great potential,” Richardson
said. “She is a tiger when it comes to competing. When going
into a race even or (when she is) behind, she has another gear that
she goes into, but it’s not a physical one. It’s one
that all great champions have.”

Joining McCullough with individual event titles were Weilbacher
and Smith who won the 100-yard butterfly and 200-yard freestyle,
respectively.

“Anne had an amazing race,” Richardson said.
“Her legs weren’t completely rested from training, so
the fact that she was able to win the event was
tremendous.”

Weilbacher captured the first Big Ten individual crown of her
career in one of the most intense races of the weekend. Falling
behind early in the event to Penn State’s Amberle Biedermann,
Weilbacher made up time in the final lap of the race to take home
the win and earn herself an NCAA automatic qualifying time of 53.58
— only .07 ahead of Biedermann.

“I was relieved to win the title,” Weilbacher said.
“I’ve placed second in that race for the past two
years.”

Smith followed Weilbacher’s winning performance with her
first career conference title in the 200-yard freestyle. Her time
of 1:46.32 just barely beat out teammate McCullough’s
second-place mark of 1:46.33. Smith, who recently qualified for the
2004 Olympic trials in the 200-meter freestyle, is projected to be
a top finisher in the event at the NCAA Championships.

“Lindsey Smith continues to teach me about how she
operates,” Richadson said. “Her training and competing
attitudes are so different. She has ice water in her veins so it
wouldn’t be a good idea to bet against her in a race even
when she’s behind.”

Freshmen Susan Gilliam and Kaitlyn Brady, sophomore Abby
Seskevics, senior Emily-Clare Fenn, and senior Kelli Stein will
also be joining Weilbacher, Smith and McCullough at the NCAA
Championships in three weeks.

“This meet has prepared us for the NCAA
Championships,” Richardson said. “It is every bit as
exciting and electric as it will be in Texas in three
weeks.”

Michigan’s divers who have qualified will take part in the
NCAA Zone C Diving

Meet Friday through Sunday, March 12-14, in Bloomington, Ind.,
while the swimmers will switch focus to the NCAA Championships,
which will be held March 18-20 at Texas A&M University’s
Student Recreation Center Natatorium in College Station, Texas.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.