Key Additions: Paul Powers (sprint freestyle), Evan White (butterfly/IM), PJ Ransford (distance freestyle), Alex Katz (distance freestyle), Aaron Whitaker (butterfly/backstroke), Tristan Sanders (backstroke)
Key Losses: Kyle Whitaker (42 individual points, 2 relays), Connor Jaeger (37 points, 1 relay), Mike Wynalda (20 points, 2 relays), Sean Ryan (9 individual points), John Wojciechowski (2 relays), Hassaan Abdel Khalik
Before going any further, we should be clear in stating it would have been irrational to label Michigan’s 2013-2014 campaign–ending with a 4th place NCAA team finish–as a disappointment. Despite returning a good portion of their 2013 title team nucleus, the Wolverines had to replace three critical NCAA All-Americans who accounted for 107 points and 7 relay swims. In addition, given the performances from Texas and Cal, Michigan would have beenhard-pressed to finish higher than third, even with a Herculean effort.
However, given their results the first 95% of the season, Michigan fell a bit short of their pre-NCAA expectations. Mike Bottom and company rolled through the regular season (the only time a win was in doubt was a tightly-contested dual meet was against rival Ohio State) before putting together one of the more dominant Big Ten meets in recent memory, winning 11 events and scoring nearly 60% more points than second place Indiana.
Top to bottom, though, the Wolverines couldn’t match their in-season/Big Ten success down in Austin. After lighting up Indianapolis at 2013 NCAA’s, Michigan was slower than their seed times in 75% of their swims. The meet was highlighted by a few great individual swims, including an incredibly gutsy 200 fly from Dylan Bosch (the fastest time in history) and another 1650 NCAA title for Connor Jaeger.
Woah, That’s a Lot of Seniors…
No matter which way you cut it, last year’s senior class might have been Michigan’s best and most decorated in the 60 years. Kyle Whitaker was three-event Big Ten finalist, relay contributor, and NCAA top three threat from the moment he walked on campus as a freshman. Connor Jaeger was by no means a highly-touted distance recruit (that was classmate Sean Ryan), but he thrived under coaches Mike Bottom and Josh White, turning into America’s premier distance swimmer along the way. Grandville, Michigan native Mike Wynalda was a fast recruit out of high school with tremendous upside, and turned into the first swimmer to ever break 1:31 in a 200 freestyle split. Hassaan Abdel-Khalik, originally in the class of 2013, scored individually in three of his four years, and John Wojciechowski earned multiple All-American honors for the Wolverines.
The damage of the losses? The five accounted for 107 NCAA points and 7 relay swims in 2014, 5 individual Big Ten titles, and unquantifiable leadership that was instrumental in bringing Ann Arbor its first NCAA title since 1995. In particular, Michigan’s mid-distance and distance freestyle group–the core of its team last year–suddenly has some holes to fill.
Luckily for Wolverine fans, Mike Bottom and company replaced their departing seniors with one heckuva freshman class. The class begins with Paul Powers, an incredibly talented sprint freestyler from Georgia who will immediately step in on at least both freestyle relays, and could take over for Bruno Ortiz on either of the medleys. The Wolverines were loaded with sprinters for their 2013 NCAA title run, but were hampered last season. At 19.51 and 43.19, Powers is already the #2 guy behind Ortiz, giving Michigan a key piece to bump their sprint relays back into the top five. Powers gained valuable international experience this summer with great results, winning three gold medals at the 2014 Junior Pan Pacs.
Michigan filled their other huge gap in this class, as well, with premier freshman backstroker Tristan Sanders from Oldsmar, Florida. Sanders, the 2013 Winter Juniors champion in the 100 and 200 backstroke, is already faster than anybody the Wolverines had to offer in the 100 back (46.8), and nearly good enough to justify moving Peter Brumm from backstroke to butterfly on the 200 medley relay (22.2). He’s even better over the 200 distance, where he’s been 1:41.8.
Beyond those two, the rest of the class provides both immediate scoring opportunities and long-term depth. The butterfly and backstroke groups garnered more support from Canadian age group record holder Evan White (53.5/2:00.8 LCM fly, 1:59 LCM 200 IMer) and Aaron Whitaker (47.0 100 back, 46.3 100 fly). Both should challenge Brumm for the medley relay fly legs, particularly Whitaker (yes, he’s Kyle’s brother), who has already demonstrated his explosiveness in short course yards.
The additions of PJ Ransford, 2014 Youth Olympics team member, and Alex Katz, a 2013 Junior Worlds team member, will ease some of the pain of Michigan’s distance losses.
Big Pieces Remain
There are only six swimmers returning who competed individually at NCAA’s last season, but they each bring a lot to the table. The first two, Anders Nielsen and Justin Glanda, are half of last year’s mind-altering 6:09 800 freestyle relay. Nielsen, a junior from Denmark, trends more towards the longer events, and boasts one of the strongest finishing kicks in the country. Glanda, meanwhile, uses his 6’6” frame to the fullest as a 100-200-500 swimmer. They were a bit off at NCAA’s (although Nielsen had an excellent 500, earning All-American honors), but remain a threat to score a combined 40-50 individual points this season.
The top returning scorer for Michigan, though, is returning NCAA champion and record holder Dylan Bosch. After finishing just behind Tom Shields in his 2013 record-setting race, the South African native took down the old standard, finishing in 1:39.33. Bosch is the favorite again this season, and should also challenge for top five finishes in the 200 and 400 IM.
The Wolverines are also bringing back their three most important relay swimmers: Peter Brumm, Bruno Ortiz, and Richard Funk. Brumm is one of the most fearless and versatile swimmers in the NCAA, excelling in everything from the 50 back to the 200 freestyle. He joined Ortiz on four relays last season for Michigan, serving as a jack-of-all-trades to help fill some of the teams most vital relay gaps. With plenty of relay spots still up for grabs in Ann Arbor, expect Bottom to use Brumm in a similar role this season.
Between Bruno and his older brother Miguel, the Ortiz brothers have been relay staples for the better part of a half-decade in Ann Arbor. 2014 was no different, with Ortiz serving as a relay workhorse alongside Brumm, swimming sprint freestyle in all four short relays. He’s probably an even better breaststroker, earning All-American status in the 100 breaststroke each of the last two years.
Richard Funk is an excellent breaststroker in his own right, winning the Big Ten title in the 100 breaststroke, and bettering Ortiz in the 100 for a third place finish at NCAA’s. With a faster backstroker in front of him, Funk will be able to keep Michigan towards the front in the medleys this March, as opposed to having to swim up from back in the pack.
One very important question remains, however…
CAN Richard Funk? We just had to ask.
The Michigan swimmers haven’t had a ton of support from their divers in recent years, and with the loss of top diver Timothy Faerber (8th in 1m, 4th in 3m, and 4th in 10m platform at Big Ten’s), that isn’t likely to change this season. However, the coaching staff has a new look with Mike Hilde taking the helm, along with the return of volunteer assistant Dick Kimball, who has coached nine Olympic medal winners in his storied career.
Frankly, Michigan’s entire season depends on the contribution of their incoming freshmen and second tier swimmers. If Powers and Sanders bring what they are capable of to the table, Michigan should be back in the top four at NCAA’s, and not have a problem with the Big Ten title (although Indiana will definitely close the gap). At this point, they still need a couple more sprinters However, with the rosters over at Cal and Texas, it’s unlikely they’ll finish higher than third at NCAA’s.