It”s a month behind in practice, not at full strength as a team and is going to face possibly the best women”s swim team in the nation to begin a three-month road trip. But Michigan is still optimistic about how it will compete this weekend.
The Wolverines start their 2001-02 season tomorrow against Florida, last year”s No. 8 team in the nation and Saturday against a variety of teams in the Florida Relays. An exhibition event, the relays won”t affect the team”s overall standings.
The Gators return most of their lineup, including three sophomores who earned a total of eight top-10 finishes in the 2001 NCAA Championships as freshmen. They have already competed this season as well, knocking off defending national champion Georgia in a dual meet last weekend.
Scheduling an opponent of this caliber to start the season would usually make a coach worry about his team”s performance, but for Michigan”s women”s swimming coach Jim Richardson, this is nothing new nor anything to be worried about.
“Some of the schools have always had a bit of a jump on us when it comes to getting started,” Richardson said. “Florida has been in the pool since Aug. 20, so we”re about three weeks behind in terms of training.
“I”m not that concerned on how we race against Florida. Win or lose, I won”t use this as a benchmark for the rest of the season. I”m more concerned on how we race.”
The extra time for practice and rehabilitation has been beneficial for the team and for one swimmer in particular. Sophomore Emily Fenn, a freestyle All-American who fought scoliosis all summer, is finally back to normal training and should be back to full strength sooner than expected.
Fenn and the other freestyle swimmers will definitely know how far they”ve come in offseason workouts when they face a trio of Gators who have already made their mark this season.
Florida sophomore Janelle Atkinson, arguably the nation”s best freestyle swimmer, has already qualified for the 2002 NCAA Championships in the one-mile freestyle. Sophomore Sara McLarty and freshman Meredith Green played vital roles in the team”s upset over Georgia and each earned spots on the USA All-America team this past summer for their times at the 2001 Phillips 66 National Swimming Championships.
The other Wolverines making their debut this weekend are the divers, who not only have to contend with Florida”s talented team, but with Miami (Fla.) as well. The scores of the Hurricanes will not count, but diving coach Dick Kimball is happy to have the extra competition.
“Miami has a talented team along with Florida,” Kimball said. “It”ll be tough, but it will be a good test for us.”
Junior Kelly Vander Kuyl and sophomore Tealin Kelemen, each of whom qualified for NCAA Zone C competition last year, will lead the diving team without redshirt sophomore Nicole Bracken who is questionable for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Though Bracken”s tower diving ability will be missed, Kimball believes that his group is by no means down in any way and could be as good as previous Michigan teams.
“For the first competition they”ve really been focusing,” Kimball said. “Tealin is certainly capable of being in the same group of past Michigan divers. It is too early in the season to tell, but I expect her to make the NCAAs.”
This first contest will provide stiff competition for the Wolverines, but how they deal with that challenge is what is on the minds of their coaches.
“There is nobody who is going to jump into your lane and stop you from swimming fast,” Richardson said. “Now, if you let the specter of somebody next to you interfere with your ability to race then you”ve got some growing to do as an athlete.”