For Michigan men’s swimming coach Mike Bottom, the cooldown after the 251-75 win over No. 10 Ohio State was especially bittersweet, as he reiterated the word “team” to his men on the blocks.
As his first recruiting class, this senior class is special to Bottom. Having lost to the Buckeyes in their season, the seniors pushed the Wolverines to two Big Ten championships and three top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships in their first three seasons together.
“A lot of them came in and they trusted me to develop them and they’re developed now,” Bottom said. “We didn’t give a whole lot of (scholarship) money to this class, and yet they trusted, they came here and they swam.”
In a win that showcased the senior class in both individual events and relays, the team Bottom started four years ago silenced the “O-S-U” chants coming from the opposite bench.
A win over the Buckeyes is a big one for any Michigan team, but for these seniors, the revenge of a bitter loss four years ago was just a little bit sweeter.
“It was especially great this year, crushing them like we did today,” senior Sean Fletcher said. “Our freshman year, we lost to them at Big Ten (championships) at their pool, so to do this our last home meet, it felt really good.”
Senior Roman Willets, an Ohio native, was the anchor in Michigan’s second-place finish in the 400-medley relay along with freshman Dylan Bosch, sophomore Bruno Ortiz and Fletcher. Willets also placed seventh in the all-senior 50-yard freestyle, while Zachary Turk, Miguel Ortiz and Gregg Evan took first, second and third, respectively.
“We’ve been together for four years and there’s a lot of competition among all the seniors and the other guys so it gets everybody going,” Fletcher said.
The seniors have been a key both in and out of the pool all season. After Bottom was added as the women’s swimming and diving head coach, the upperclassmen have become leaders of a new culture in Michigan swimming.
“It’s a big brother-little sister thing with the women’s team right now, and they’re doing a great job moving forward,” Bottom said. “We are running two separate teams that support each other and get what each other need in a combined program. That’s what’s so unique about us, and these seniors made it happen.”
A second all-senior event – the 100-yard backstroke – featured Evan, Ortiz, Fletcher, and Connor McCarrol. Ortiz – who currently ranks second in the Big Ten in the event – finished in second place behind Fletcher. Senior Ryan Freeley recorded a season best in the 1,000-yard freestyle, coming in a close second to junior teammate Connor Jeager. Senior Ryan Funk recorded an individual win in the 100-yard breaststroke.
Day two of competition – the last home meet of the season – began with yellow roses and pictures with coaches and family for each of the nine graduating seniors, and ended with circus-stunt dives from the Michigan dive team.
But these seniors have the opportunity to leave an even bigger legacy before the season ends. After all, what’s better than a rose to remember it by?
“Another Big Ten championship,” Fletcher said. “And a top-three finish in the NCAA. We have a shot to win it all, and that’s what we want.”