After months of grueling workouts, endless hours spent at the pool and a third-place finish at the Big Ten Championships, the No. 5 Michigan men’s swimming and diving team’s season will culminate at the NCAA Championships in Minneapolis on March 24-26.

The Wolverines have ten swimmers competing at the NCAA Championships — including Big Ten Swimmer of the Year Peter Vanderkaay. Juniors Chris DeJong and Davis Tarwater and senior Andrew Hurd will also lead the way for Michigan (5-0 Big Ten, 7-2 overall).

Vanderkaay enters the NCAA Championships with a No. 1 seed and in the 500-yard freestyle. He also secured two No. 2 seeds in the 200- and 1,650-yard freestyles. Tarwater holds two top-10 seeds in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly, while DeJong has two top-10 spots in the 100- and 200-yard backstroke events. Hurd enters his final championships as a Wolverine and will swim in the 200- 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle as a 34th, 29th and 17th seed, respectively. He will also race in the Wolverines’ No. 5-seeded 800-yard relay team, hoping to defend last year’s title in that event.

With nearly a month to prepare for the NCAA Championships, Michigan coach Bob Bowman believes that his swimmers can perform at their highest capability.

“A lot of the guys swam unshaved at the Big Tens and have been pointing to this meet all year,” Bowman said. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement from people from the Big Tens to this point, so I expect everyone to swim faster.”

In Minneapolis, the Wolverines will face some tough competition against schools like Stanford, Southern Cal and Big Ten champion Minnesota. Still, Bowman thinks that the competitiveness of the other teams is not as important as the mindset of his team.

“Our toughest competition is ourselves,” Bowman said. “If we walk out of there with 100 percent best times, I’ll be perfectly happy regardless if we’re 20th or first. We’re trying to go and have everyone improve from the conference meet to the NCAAs.”

While some of Michigan’s top swimmers never had to worry about qualifying for the NCAA Championships, freshman Alex Vanderkaay had to wait until March 14 — the day consideration times came out — to find out if his NCAA consideration times were fast enough to qualify. When the times were originally posted, Vanderkaay did not make the cut. Then, after several swimmers from other universities were dropped, Vanderkaay was informed that he made it in.

“It was kind of like a rollercoaster of emotion,” Vanderkaay said. “I’m just happy to get in because I think that I can drop time. I was thrilled. I went from being in a bad mood to a great mood. It was great.”

While freshman Alex Vanderkaay will enjoy his first appearance in the NCAA Championships, senior Brendan Neligan is thrilled just to compete in it again. After tearing his MCL last winter, Neligan missed out on last year’s NCAA Championships. He had to bear not only with the recovery from his injury but also with the fact that the championships were in his hometown of Long Island. Always a teammate, he traveled with the team and cheered them on as Michigan finished fifth.

This year, Neligan — in his third NCAA Championships — will swim in the 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle as the 37th and 24th seed, respectively. Knowing that this will be his last time swimming for Michigan, Neligan hopes that he can swim at his best and have fun.

“I just want to go out on a high note,” Neligan said. “The most important thing for me is to prove that I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I’m doing it for my parents, my two sisters and rest of the guys on the team. That’s who I’m going to be thinking about when I step up on the blocks.”

While the team doesn’t have great depth in the sprinting events, Neligan is confident that the Wolverines have an excellent chance to finish in the top six.

Bowman — in his first NCAA Championships — feels that his team will be able to come out and compete with the top teams. The intense dry-land and pool training during the season conditioned the Wolverines in preparation for this last event, and Bowman believes that his swimmers are well prepared mentally and physically.

The Wolverines will also enjoy the bonus of having already swam in a premier event at the Aquatics Center in Minneapolis during the Big Ten Championships.

“It’s going to be very loud,” Bowman said. “At this meet, everyone’s fired up because you’re swimming for your school, you’re swimming for yourself and, in terms of the pure speed of the event, it’s the fastest swimming meet in the year.”

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