Primed for a big season

NMU swimmers and divers look to continue excellence

Northern Michigan University swimmer Lajos Budai pumps his fist after a meet this past season. Budai was a three-time All-American, GLIAC men’s Freshman of the Year and Swimmer of the Year last year and will be one of the Wildcats’ leaders in 2017-18. (Photo courtesy of NMU athletics)

MARQUETTE — The men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams are two of the most consistently successful programs at Northern Michigan University and they had another big year in 2016-17.

Despite losing some key athletes, both Wildcat squads finished third at the GLIAC Championships and combined to qualify 10 athletes (eight swimmers, two divers) for the NCAA Championships. By the end of the season, Northern had seven total All-American awards and Rachel Helm (100 yard backstroke) became the Wildcats’ first national champion since 1999.

Helm and Lajos Budai were named GLIAC women’s and men’s Freshman of the Year, while Budai was also named GLIAC Swimmer of the Year. Both swimmers combined to get five of NMU’s seven All-American awards, while Renars Bundzis (200 backstroke) and Angela Probstfeld (3-meter dive) earned the other two to put a nice finishing touch on a great year.

“It was really successful season,” Wildcats head coach Heidi Voigt said. “We had our first national champion in many years and took our biggest team to NCAAs. We had a travel party of 21 with three coaches, so that was fun and exciting. I think that helped bring our team to a new level. The real exciting part is that most of those athletes are coming back and we only have four seniors this year. So we have a young team that continues to get stronger and stronger.”

All four of the All-Americans will be returning to Marquette this season, but Voigt said that her squad won’t be relying entirely on those athletes. The Wildcats are very deep this year with some veterans on the men’s side and some talented underclassmen on the women’s team.

“Our men’s junior class has some really strong swimmers,” Voigt said. “Ryan Knox-Leonard and Renars will be two leaders on the men’s side and they are both two-time NCAA qualifiers. Arnoldo Herrera is at the World Championships in Budapest right now, so we have a lot of experience in place for the men. On the women’s side, we lost some strong swimmers, but we have some great freshmen. Our junior class also has some leaders that can help out. A couple key seniors are Hannah Crump and Abbi Schieber and they both have some conference experience too. Both teams will be younger but they are coming in hungry and ready to go.”

In addition to some great swimmers, NMU also has some talented divers this year with Probstfeld leading the way after a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships and earning her second All-American award.

“I think diving is going to be strong again on the women’s side,” Voigt said. “Angela is only a junior and she looks ready to go, so I expect big things from her. Jamie (Kimble) qualified last year for nationals and she’ll be back as a sophomore. She got some good experience under her belt last year. On the men’s side, Charlie (Pavlak) battled some injuries last year, but he’s looking strong again. So hopefully, the men can get back on track this year.”

Looking at the GLIAC, it looks like NMU will be in a dogfight once again with Grand Valley State and Wayne State for the conference championship. However, Voigt says that the Wildcats’ depth could be what puts them over the top this year.

“We always battle with those two schools,” she said.

“We’re getting closer and closer each year though and now we’re breathing down their necks. Hopefully with the youth we have and the incoming swimmers coming in, we’ll have some good depth and we can start turning the tide against those two. We just need to keep everyone happy and healthy. If we can do that, it should be a great year.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.