Countless records were shattered. Events were hotly contested. A
conference offered its fond farewell to a coaching legend.

But it was simply not meant to be for the No. 10 Michigan
men’s swimming and diving team at last weekend’s Big
Ten Championships in West Lafayette. The Wolverines, despite
memorable individual performances, finished the three-day meet with
605 points, good for second place out of 10 teams on Saturday
night. Minnesota’s seventh-ranked squad took the win with its
score of 712.5.

Michigan captured nine of 21 event titles, but Minnesota’s
superior depth proved instrumental in winning the bulk of the
middle places, allowing the Golden Gophers to accumulate enough
points to win the overall championship. Surprisingly, Minnesota was
unable to win a single individual event title, bringing home just
two wins in relay events.

In the end, Michigan smashed five Big Ten Championship meet
records, while sophomores Chris DeJong and Davis Tarwater emerged
with all-time Big Ten records in the 200-yard backstroke and the
200-yard butterfly, respectively.

Although it was unable to repeat last season’s Big Ten
Championship, Michigan returned home with plenty of hardware to
show for its efforts at Purdue’s Boilermaker Aquatic
Center.

Retiring head coach Jon Urbanchek was named Big Ten Coach of the
Year for the ninth time in his 22 years at Michigan. Sophomore
Peter Vanderkaay received co-Big Ten Swimmer of the Year honors,
and senior diver Jason Coben received the Diver of the Championship
award.

The first day of competition left Michigan 23.5 points behind
Minnesota. The eventual champions opened with an all-time
conference record in the 200-yard freestyle relay. But Michigan
countered with an impressive showing in the 500-yard freestyle.
Vanderkaay, senior captain Dan Ketchum and junior Andrew Hurd swept
the three medal positions. The event has been won by a Wolverine
swimmer eight straight years.

“We’ve been dominating the 500 free all the way back
to the early 90s,” Urbanchek said. “We own that
event.”

Coben’s six-dive, 373.85-point performance on the
one-meter springboard was good enough to set a meet record, but it
was all the more significant since it was his first Big Ten title
in the event, which had been considered his weakest in the
past.

“(Jason’s win) was very exciting,” Urbanchek
said. “That’s something we needed real
badly.”

Minnesota extended its lead to 50 points in Friday’s
second session, turning in solid performances in both relays and
individual races. But Michigan earned three event titles.
Vanderkaay won his second event of the meet, finishing the 400-yard
individual medley in 3:45.84, an astounding 2.64 seconds faster
than his nearest competition.

In what was perhaps the most dramatic race of the meet, Ketchum
came from behind to outlast Minnesota’s Terry Silkaitis by
.06 seconds in the 200-yard freestyle final. The win made Ketchum
just the fifth swimmer in Big Ten history to take home top honors
in the event three different times. He also placed first in his
freshman and sophomore seasons.

Ketchum and Silkaitis dueled again in the final leg of the
800-yard freestyle relay, with Michigan again coming out on top
with a time of 6:21.77, yet another Big Ten meet record.

Coben’s fortunes took a turn for the worse on the second
day, as he hit the springboard three times from three meters up. He
finished the event in ninth place.

“It’s too bad he hit the board three times,”
Urbanchek said. “You don’t hit the board (that much) in
a lifetime.”

On the third and final day of competition, Vanderkaay secured
his place in the top echelon of collegiate swimmers with his third
event victory of the meet. He is only the sixth Michigan swimmer
ever to take first place three times in the same year.
Vanderkaay’s 14:48.66 showing in the 1,650-yard freestyle
brought him to the wall an amazing 20 seconds ahead of teammate
Hurd, who finished in second place.

Coben’s roller coaster ride finished on the upswing as he
won his third-straight conference title in 10-meter platform
diving, accumulating 540.45 points with an array of difficult
dives.

“Jason did a super job,” Urbanchek said. “He
was able to recover from a real bad day, but he came back.
That’s the sign of a great champion.”

But the relentless Minnesota squad placed enough swimmers in the
middle of the pack in enough events to eventually put the meet out
of reach. The Gophers capped off their third Big Ten championship
in four years with a victory in the 400-yard freestyle relay, the
final event of the meet.

“Minnesota won the meet without winning (events),”
Urbanchek said. “If you have real good depth, you can
accumulate that many points. They were able to put together a lot
of points with mediocre swims.”

Nevertheless, the Michigan coach was satisfied with his
team’s performance.

“(Our swimmers) swam as good as ever before, maybe even
better than when we won the team championship (last year),”
Urbanchek said. “The overall personal best times are
unbelievable, even if we didn’t have enough bodies to pull
through for the team accomplishment.”

Urbanchek expressed some surprise upon learning of his Coach of
the Year status.

“I didn’t expect (the award),” he said.
“When your peers do this, it means a lot to you. I think the
coaches respected how fast Michigan swims.”

But Urbanchek admits he might have received some sympathy
votes.

“Maybe they felt bad for me that I’m leaving,”
he said, while laughing.

Either way, it was not an experience the Michigan coach will
soon forget.

“This was one of the most fun (meets),” Urbanchek
said. “I probably enjoyed this meet more than any of the
other meets in the past.”

Coming from somebody with so much experience, that statement
speaks volumes.

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