MARQUETTE - As the Northern Michigan University swimming and diving team wraps up its season this week at the NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships, Heidi Voigt reflects on the Wildcats' improvement in her four years as head coach, and the evidence rests soundly in the statistics.
When Voigt was hired as head coach in 2010, the 'Cats had just finished eighth at the GLIAC Championships. In her first year of 2010-11, the team finished seventh in the conference, then went on to place fourth in her second year and third the past two years.
"It's really exciting and I've been so pleased," said Voigt, who was named the GLIAC Coach of the Year and NMU Coach of the Year in 2012-13. "I'm so proud of them more than anything."
NMU swimming and diving coach Heidi Voigt
In addition to advancing within the conference, more NMU athletes have qualified for nationals each year. One diver competed in the NCAA Championships in Voigt's first year, two swimmers in her second year, and three swimmers and one diver last year.
This year the Wildcats are sending a total of seven athletes, with six swimmers - sophomore Crystal Bennet, freshman Rachel Borchardt, and juniors Emily Bourguignon, Tara Dowling, Debbi Lawrence and Madisen Sechena - and one diver - junior Molly Kearney.
Sechena and Kearney are both defending All-Americans.
The number of Wildcats who return from the NCAA Championships as All-Americans has also increased each season, with one in Voigt's second year and two last year. She hopes that number increases again after this weekend.
The Wildcats begin training at the beginning of September each year and they work straight through the spring, making it one of the longest seasons of any sport.
"They have incredible work ethic," Voigt said. "They never complain about it and they know what it takes to get to the next level.
"The great thing is everybody's on the same page, and we all want to do well and move up."
With 13 juniors and one senior on the team, Voigt said the upperclassmen have been incredible leaders and helped establish the culture of team.
Meghan Cepela is the team's only senior and, under Voigt's coaching, has improved her times every year.
"I think competing four years in college athletics is really tough because there's no room for breaks," Voigt said. "Not many people are able to swim their fastest time their senior year."
Despite all of Voigt's success in her first four years as head coach of the Wildcats, she has high aspirations for the future of the program.
"We do well, but I think a good coach isn't fully satisfied; you always want to do better," Voigt said.
"I see other teams out there winning conference and top 10 in the nation and that's where we want to go. We're always hungry for more."