MARQUETTE - Coming off a third place finish in the GLIAC last season, the Northern Michigan University swimming and diving team is striving for another top three finish at conference and to advance swimmers to NCAA Division II National Championships once again this year.
"We have high expectations," said 2012-13 GLIAC Swimming and Diving Coach of the Year Heidi Voigt. "Every year we get stronger and the team looks a little bit stronger than last year already."
NMU returns 19 team members for the 2013-14 season, including two All-Americans and a strong base of upperclassman leadership.
Juniors represent the bulk of the upperclassmen, as there are 13 compared to a lone senior, Meghan Cepela.
Cepela was a freshman during Voigt's first year as head coach of the 'Cats. The sizable junior class includes All-Americans Madisen Sechena and Molly Kearney.
"We have a lot of leadership on the team, which is great," Voigt said. "Our junior class is very strong."
The incoming freshman class is made up of three swimmers and two divers. Voigt said she expects the additional divers, Julia Mead and Karsyn Textor, to make a big impact in scoring points for the team.
Voigt said all three of the freshman swimmers - Rachel Borchardt, Katie Bourguignon and Courtney Konopitski - are looking strong and pushing the returners to work even harder.
The 'Cats held their Green vs. Gold intrasquad meet on Sept. 28 at the PEIF pool. Voigt said she will use the meet results to figure out where the team stands and which areas need improvement.
"We had some great swims," Voigt said. "We have some other people who may be a little rusty from the summer, but it's going to come."
Junior Debbi Lawrence broke a pool record in the 50-yard backstroke during the 200 medley relay. Voigt said she was pleased with Lawrence's summer training and excited to see a broken record at the beginning of the year.
Junior Emily Brennan said the Green vs. Gold was helpful for the athletes, both individually and as a team.
"It definitely helped us out with our competitiveness and it also helped us motivate each other," Brennan said.
"Even if we were on different teams, we were all cheering for each other."
The Green vs. Gold meet was preceded by two weeks of team activities, including various competitions, bonding and a camping trip.
"It's really great to get us on the same page before we move forward," Voigt said.
The 'Cats typically begin tapering their workouts as the conference meet approaches so they are able to swim faster. But at this point in the year, Voigt said the athletes should feel tired.
"I have to go by what they look like day by day," Voigt said. "I've been able to push them a little faster starting off than normally."
Junior Tara Dowling said a typical week of training for the swimmers consists of two-a-day swims and weightlifting three times a week, swimming and dryland workouts twice a week, and a Saturday morning swim.
NMU kicks off its season with a trip downstate to Hillsdale University on Saturday. Voigt said her expectation is for the Wildcats to win the meet.
Instead of traveling the day before the meet, the team will drive to Hillsdale the day of the meet. The GLIAC Championships will be held in Cleveland this year, and Voigt said the Wildcats need to prepare to get off the bus and race.
"We want to go down to Hillsdale and show them what we've got," Dowling said. "A lot of us are itching to get some competition, so we're going to get out there and race hard."