Down but not out. That is where the Michigan women’s swimming and diving team sunk to over the weekend. Visiting No. 23 Northwestern, the Wolverines traveled all the way to Evanston and then came out flat, losing 168-132 — the first time they’ve lost there since Jan. 27, 2001.
The Wildcats clawed their way to victory on their senior night. The win was long overdue for the team’s seniors who hadn’t solved the Michigan puzzle in more than four years.
For the No. 13 Wolverines, the loss dims their chances of taking first in the Big Ten for the second consecutive year. In Michigan Jim Richardson’s 20-year tenure, only once has he led the team to a conference title in a season with more than one loss. Regardless, the Wolverines (3-1 Big Ten, 3-2 overall) are still hopeful that they can claim coach Richardson his 15th Big Ten championship.
“We’re trying to focus on Big Tens,” senior Amy McCullough said. “That’s our big meet that we put everything into. We’re hoping that pays off in the end and that we’ll be able to swim a lot faster then. It’s going to be interesting to see how the team steps up at the end and how we come together. It’s going to be fun though. A good hard-fought battle regardless of how well it goes.”
Most of Michigan’s usual top performers persistently attempted to push their team past Northwestern. Michigan sophomore Kaitlyn Brady had a pair of first-place finishes, taking the 50-yard freestyle and the 200-yard backstroke. Freshman Justine Mueller continued her dominance of the individual medley, taking first in the 200-yard event as well as the 100-yard backstroke. But Mueller, couldn’t quite overcome Wildcat sophomore Brielle Bovee, who beat Mueller out in the 200-yard breaststroke and was nearly uncontested in the 100-yard breaststroke.
Michigan sophomore Lindsey Smith had a rough day in the pool, coming up just short in both her two individual events and the two relays she competed in. Smith was bested in both the 100- and 200-yard freestyles. Each time she came in a disappointing second to Northwestern freshman Andrea Hupman, who held more than a one-second margin in both races.
Hupman’s relay teams also got the best of Michigan, taking both the 400-yard freestyle and medley relays. The Wildcats, winning by nearly two seconds, defeated the freestyle team of Smith, senior Abby Seskevics, McCullough and senior Tracy Egnatuk. The medley team of Mueller, freshman Valeria Silva, Brady and Smith made more of a stand. However, they were bested by just .22 seconds.
McCullough, who had a dominant year in her junior campaign, has been nearly silent. McCullough showed some life for the first time this season after missing the first three meets with mononucleosis. Gilliam, who planned on flying out to Evanston separately from the team, could not make it due to the inclement weather. The veteran McCullough did her best to keep Michigan afloat with convincing wins in both the 500- and 1000-yard freestyles, recording almost four-second margins in each.
“Swim meets don’t always go as planned,” McCullough said. “Last minute, we had to change the lineup around a lot, and I got moved around. I was a little nervous, but I stepped in anyway, and I did what I needed to do to win the two events. It ended up working out all right.”
The backbreaker for the Wolverines came in the butterfly events. Northwestern took first and second place in the 100-yard race and swept the top three in the 200-yard race. Senior Christy Olin and freshman Katie Braun orchestrated the control over the two flies. Braun stole the 100-yard and Olin romped five seconds ahead of the nearest Michigan finisher in the 200-yard.
The victory was the Wildcats’ third win this season over a ranked opponent. Meanwhile the Wolverines have lost two to ranked opponents. They hope to get some revenge against Northwestern at the Big Ten Tournament starting Feb. 16. In the meantime, Michigan will have another shot at a ranked opponent when they take on No. 21 Notre Dame at home in Canham Natatorium this Friday at 6 p.m.