There was a distinctly unusual presence lingering over the spectators, the coaches and the athletes on Friday night at Canham Natatorium. The crowd — besides being the largest Canham has seen all season — was full of excited murmurs, encouraging exclamations and quite more enthralled with the action in the pool than normal.
Michigan women’s swimming and diving coach Jim Richardson had a surplus of pride brewing inside his throat; he and his assistants screamed and gestured to their swimmers in the water in a little more animated fashion than at most meets.
Richardson swelled with compassion while he watched his team’s leaders swim for the final time in front of their own family and friends. The Wolverines rode inspiration to victory, as they defeated Notre Dame, 161-138, on Senior Night.
“You want to send your swimmers out with a good feeling after their last meet,” Richardson said. “Everyone wants to do what they can to contribute to that in their own races and cheering for (the seniors) in their races. It was one of those nights that turned out the way it was supposed to be.”
Five seniors said their goodbyes to Canham on Friday night: Lesley Barnett, Tracy Egnatuk, captains Amy McCullough and Erica Watts and diver Alexis Goolik.
McCullough led off the scoring for the senior Wolverines with an inspiring comeback victory in the 200-yard freestyle.
“That’s how I always swim,” McCullough said. “Some fire lights up inside of me and says ‘You don’t really want to lose, do you?’ It always gives me the fuel to finish that last little bit.”
McCullough also took second in the 50-yard freestyle and third in the 500-yard freestyle.
“It was fun, it was a good way to go out,” McCullough said. “It was a good last meet to have. It was good to finally get back and swim a couple good races and have our team come out on top.”
Watts and Goolik also put forth extraordinary efforts for Michigan. Watts had one of her fastest times in the 200-yard butterfly at 2:07.08, earning a third-place finish. Goolik was the top finisher for Michigan in both the one-meter and three-meter dives taking second place overall in both.
The younger swimmers also contributed to the Wolverines’ success and helped to give their elders a sweet goodbye. Sophomore Susan Gilliam swept the long distance events, taking first in both the 1,650-yard freestyle and the 500-yard freestyle.
Junior Carolina Sierra dominated the backstroke events for Michigan grabbing first place in both the 200- and 100-yard races. Sophomore Lindsey Smith finished atop the 100-yard freestyle contest and also took second in the 200-yard freestyle, behind McCullough.
Freshman Justine Mueller had a bit of an off night, losing her streak of five consecutive first-place finishes in the 200-yard individual medley. Mueller placed second, even though the event was exhibitioned by the Wolverines because of their sizeable lead.
“(Mueller) ran out of gas a little bit tonight,” Richardson said. “She had a good, hard-working week. Her first swim was a life-time best in the 100-back. But you could just see every race after that was just a little more difficult to do. She was just tired.”
Sophomore Kaitlyn Brady lost her streak of top finishes in the 200-yard backstroke because she was feeling ill and was able to swim in just one event. But Brady had a strong swim in the 50-yard freestyle and extended her string of first-place finishes in that event to six straight.
“It’s sad that it’s (the seniors’) last meet,” Brady said. “It’s weird to think that they’re not going to be back next year. You spend so much time with them, you get so close with them, and it’s hard to see them go.”
But Richardson and the Wolverines are not quite done with the season however. They head to Bloomington for the Big Ten Tournament in two weeks. Until then, Richardson is prescribing a relaxing couple of days to help his athletes rejuvenate.
“We’re taking more rest this year than we have in past years,” Richardson said. “I felt our volume of work this year was quite a bit higher than last year in the middle part of the season. We’ll see how that works out, some of the people seem to be responding to it really well.”