2011-2012 College Swimming Previews: No. 9 Michigan Men Looking for Whitaker, Distance Group to Get Over the Hump at NCAA's

The summer of 2011 will feature a huge meet in the FINA World Championships, but that doesn’t mean it’s too soon to begin looking at the 2012 NCAA season. Over the next few months, we will count down the top 12 teams from last year’s NCAA Championships, along with a few teams that we expect to break through, until we finish with the two defending National Champions from Berkeley. To keep track of all of our season previews, we’ve added a link in the menu bar, just click “College Previews” at the top of the page.

Key Additions: Richard Funk (breaststroke), Justin Glanda (sprint free/fly), Bruno Ortiz (free/fly), Jeremy Raisky (fly)

Key Losses: Neal Kennedy (4 NCAA Relays), James Ridgeway (1 NCAA Relay)

Last year’s Recap: The 2010-2011 season for the Michigan Men and coach Mike Bottom was an experiment in youth. They lost the star of the program, Tyler Clary, as he turned pro a year early, and brought in 20 freshmen to try and replace him. That class, now down to 17, performed admirably and took Michigan to a Big Ten title and 9th at NCAA’s.

The difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is pretty simple: it’s a year older. They didn’t bring in much, but aside from some good relay pieces they didn’t lose much either. They had 6 swimmers graduate last year, and will have only 4 swimmers and 1 diver in this year’s senior class. The power will be concentrated in their sophomore and junior classes, which will contain 26 of Michigan’s 31 returners.

Anchor at the Top: Michigan’s team, as young as it will be, will have one huge rock amongst the seniors, and he will be amongst the best seniors in the country: Dan Madwed. Madwed didn’t have a great NCAA Championship meet last year, but was still good for a 3rd-place finish in the 100 fly and a 6th-place in the 200 fly. He missed the final in the 200 IM, but had he gone a season-best time he would’ve been top-10 in that race too. Depending on whether or not Austin Staab is granted a redshirt, Michigan can be pretty confident in another top-3 finish from Madwed in the 100. In the 200, which is really his better race, the competition will be fierece though, as 11 of the top 12 finishers from NCAA’s last year return.

Madwed has a bit of a tough event schedule; last year he was the 200 free Big Ten Champion, but that race comes immediately after the 100 fly at NCAA’s. It looks unlikely at this point as though he will try that tough double, but stick with the 200 IM.

The other two seniors on this roster that could make an impact are Dane Vanderkaay, whose senior season will officially end the legendary Vanderkaay era at Michigan, and Jan Korzeniowski, who transfered to Michigan from Missouri before last season.

Super Sophomores: Last year, all of the pressure was off of a freshman class that made up roughly half of the roster. This was a much-hyped class, but most fans recognize in men’s college swimming that it’s rare for a freshman class to carry a program. They did well to win-back the Big Ten title from Ohio State, and that was enough…last year. Now, they’ve got a year of experience under their belts, and the expectations will be stepped up.

The headliner of the group is Kyle Whitaker. Last year, he was a huge piece of Michigan’s Big Ten Championship squad. Not only did he win individual titles in the 200 and 400 IM’s, he was put in a big leadership position right off of the bat, and given the anchor position on the legendary Michigan 800 free relay. He entered the water in 3rd place, more than two seconds out of the lead, but threw up an incredible anchor leg of 1:33.4 to nail down the Wolverines’ 11th-straight Big Ten title in the event. He had a very good NCAA Championship meet, including a runner-up finish (3:40.92) in the 400 IM, his best event, where he will be the big favorite to win next year.

With such a big class, any number of them could hit their stride as sophomores, but to peg one, I’d take Connor Jaeger. He was on the aforementioned 800 free relay at Big Tens, though he lost his spot at NCAA’s, and had a great summer in both the 200 free and 200 fly in long course.

Distance Special: Beyond Whitaker and Madwed, most of Michigan’s scoring came from a very impressive, and previously underrated, distance group. They had three scorers in the men’s 500 free: Hassan Abdel-Khalik (12th – 4:19.5), Ryan Feeley (9th – 4:17.29), and the leader of the group Sean Ryan (5th – 4:15.99), another member of that 2010-2011 freshman class. This year Ryan and Feeley (a junior) will look to ratchet things up even further after a whirlwind summer participating in big-time international meets. Feeley is currently in China participating in the World University Games, and Ryan recently returned from an open water stint at the World Championships.

Ryan (7th) and Feeley (16th) also scored in the mile, where they could see the biggest improvement based on their ultra-distance focuses since last year’s championship meet. All-told, the Wolverines could be lined up for 60 or more points between their three-headed distance monster next year.

Fletcher: The other big piece coming back for Michigan is junior Sean Fletcher. Not only did he place 9th in the 100 fly (46.13), he was arguably the key member on 3 out of the 4 relays he swam on. That includes being the fastest leg on their 7th-place 400 free relay with a split of 42.65.

Relay Madness: Michigan coach Mike Bottom ended up having to use some serious creativity to assemble the Michigan relays at NCAA’s. Their best 100 butterflier, and the 3rd-best in the country, Madwed was also their best 100 freestyler, though he rarely swam the race individually. Their 2nd-best butterflier, Fletcher, was also their best backstroker. Their 2nd-best backstroker, Miguel Ortiz (who grew up in Japan), is by time their best individual sprint freestyler. And in perhaps the rarest of combinations in swimming, the now-graduated Neal Kennedy, Michigan’s best sprint breaststroker, swam butterfly on the 200 medley relay over both Madwed and Fletcher.

The result was some medley relays that were always a mystery prior to arrival at the blocks, and some serious psychological masterminding by Bottom. With Kennedy graduating, the relays should straighten themselves out a bit, but there will still be some strategic manuvering to be done.

Duckitt on Deck: One of the reasons that Michigan had so much flexibility in their relays was their breaststroke depth. There deepest stroke last year was the breaststrokes; however, they lost 4 of their top-5 breaststrokers from last season, which will leave South African sophomore Kyle Duckitt holding the reigns. Though he didn’t qualify for NCAA’s, he still had a season-best of 54.5 in the 100 breast and 1:59.10 in the 200. He came on very strong at the end of the semester, and tapered off 3-and-5 seconds in the two distances, respectively, in February. He’ll be in a great battle for the top breaststroke spot with incoming freshman Richard Funk, who we’ll touch on in a minute, but he’s got a big oppurtunity to perform well for the Wolverines. 

From Big Class to Small Class: After huge classes the last two years, Michigan really downsized with this year’s crop. They did, however, get some very good swimmers in the fall early-signing period, though the class will really fly under most radars.

The big fish in the class is Richard Funk, who will help take up a lot of the slack for the departing breaststroke group. His best times in the long course breaststrokes are 1:01.9 and 2:15.7, both done earlier this year. When converted (52.9/1:56.1), those swims put him in the A-Final in the 100, and just outside of the B-Final in the 200. He’s got great experience as well, as a two-event Jr. Pan Pacs finalist in 2010. If those conversions hold true for Michigan, then this becomes an incredibly well-balanced Wolverine program that is probably one more backstroker away from being a top-5 team at NCAA’s.

Justin Glanda, whose brother is on the Michigan football team, comes in as another piece to the Michigan 200 free legacy. His career-best in that race is a 1:38.63. He should make an easy transition to college swimming, as he’s already very mature physically (which is code for the kid being an absolute monster with about a 7-foot wingspan), and should be able to extend to the 100 (45.6) and 500 (4:32.56) freestyles as well. He’s also got pretty decent butterflies and IM’s, if he chooses to develop those events.

Bruno Ortiz is what coach Mike Bottom has described as a “developmental kid,” but if he develops as well as his brother Miguel (the Wolverines’ #2 sprinter), this will be a great pickup. He’s a great sprinter, with meters-converted times of sub-21 in the 50 and 45-low in the 100. A little more depth in the sprints will be big for Michigan this year, and Ortiz seems like a surefire A-Relay guy by at least his sophomore season.

Diving: Michigan brought in KZ Li as their new diving coach just before the start of last season. Li has worked with some of the biggest diving programs in the country (University of Minnesota, Team Orlando), and led up Australia’s National Center of Excellence for three years. He has served as a USA Diving Head Coach on more than 20 occassions, and is one of the best in the country. For a struggling Michigan diving program, that was a badly-needed shot in the arm after several years of no contributions in a diving-rich Big Ten. So far, that only translated to a small handful of points at the Big Ten Championships (and no NCAA qualifiers), but with his late start he was mostly working with a crop of divers (including 6 freshman) who he didn’t recruit. His impact was felt, albeit not at the championships, as Michigan’s diving corps made big improvements in the first year under his direction. Li really has a long-term build to go in Ann Arbor, and though Michigan already has a large group of divers on campus, one would imagine they don’t absorb a whole lot of scholarship money. As soon as Li is able to start recruiting the level of athlete that he’s capable of, this Michigan diving group is going to take off like a rocket.

2011-2012 Outlook: I’m really high on the outlook of this Michigan team. They should have no trouble repeating as Big Ten Champs, and I think they’ll start to push ever-so-slightly higher in the National standings. They should be able to snag at least 8th at NCAA’s, though pushing much higher than that will take a big jump. If they can get another top-flight sprinter to emerge, and maybe another 47.0 backstroker to really cement some strong medley relay combinations, then they could move as high as 6th at the top end. This season for the Wolverines, though, is going to be all about who amongst the sophomores can emerge, so those “what ifs” are certainly within reason.

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James

Michigan has gone through a rough period, but is coming out of it with strength. After losing to Ohio State in the 2010 SECs, Michigan had to focus on Big 10s 2011 and they rolled on the competition. There have been questions about their distance group, which has traditionally been a big part of Michigan’s success but not quite up-to-snuff in the last 3-4 years, but they did much better last year and they have some real talent and a great work ethic within the group. Coach Bottom is one of the brightest, most focused coaches in the NCAA, and one of the most expericenced international coach in the world….I can see them continuing to improve through 2012. I really… Read more »

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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