Chance for championships

NMU swimmers and divers prepare for NCAA meet

Northern Michigan University's Gabby Spajic competes in the women's 200-yard butterfly on Saturday, Jan. 12, against Wisconsin-Green Bay at NMU's PEIF pool. (Shannon Stieg photo)

MARQUETTE — In what has been a measure of consistency, the Northern Michigan University swimming and diving teams have put together another successful season.

The Northern men recently finished second at the GLIAC Championships, while the women were third. Each team also racked up several individual victories and are now preparing for the upcoming NCAA Championships.

“I think it’s affirmation that we’re doing things the right way,” NMU head coach and GLIAC men’s coach of the Year Heidi Voigt said. “We have freshmen that come in and improve, and we have returners, juniors and seniors that keep improving.

“It’s good affirmation that we’re training well and doing things how we want to do them. As you get better and better, it gets a little more stressful as it goes, but I’m super excited about this team.

“We really shined at GLIACs and I do think that even some of them still have a little room for potential to be even better.

“We’ll know the national team in about nine days, when the selections come out by the NCAA. It’s a really hard and nerve-racking nine days and then we’ll be able to move on after that.”

For the men, Grantas Dapkus shared the GLIAC Men’s Swimmer of the Year honor as he picked up victories in the 500- and 1,000-yard freestyle.

Lajos Budai also notched wins in the 100 backstroke and 100 free, while Renars Bundzis set a GLIAC record in his 200 backstroke victory.

In addition, wins were earned by Ryan Leonard in the 200 individual medley and David Miranda in the 200 butterfly, while the Wildcats’ 800 free relay also was victorius.

The men’s team has only been back after its decades-long hiatus for three seasons, but has already had lots of success and Voigt said that she and her staff have been really focused on the team being strong from the beginning.

“When we started the men’s program, we really wanted to start off strong, so we really invested in it,” she said.

“I think our first squad was about 23 men and what’s amazing is that those men will be seniors next year.

“We’ll have 14 seniors so we’ll have a bigger squad next year, but half of them will be on their way out. I think we did it the right way. We really had more people looking and thinking about Northern and coming here because we were so strong right away.

“Part of that is a new program and (being) a little bit leery about how are they going to be. That’s not out there anymore. They’re pretty confident that every year we’ve produced.

“We’ve got some good recruits for the fall that have bought into what we’re selling, seeing the successes that we’re having and that they get faster every year.

“That’s important and that’s what the athletes want, too. They want to get better every year. So that’s what we’re trying to do.”

When asked if she thought the men’s team was still surprising other programs, Voigt said she didn’t think that was the case anymore.

“I think we were a surprise the last couple of years,” she said. “I think now when you’ve been right in there for a couple of years now, I think it’s more of an expectation to stay there. So it’s a little more pressure on our side, the coaching staff side, but it’s been really great. I don’t think we’re surprising anybody anymore. The cat’s out of the bag.”

Over on the women’s side, Rachel Helm earned conference Women’s Swimmer of the Year honors and set a conference record in the 200 back. She also won the 200 IM, 100 fly and 100 back.

Also finishing on top for the NMU was Lena Soulas in the 100 free and Katharina Springhetti, who tied for first in 200 breaststroke, along with the Wildcats’ 200 medley relay.

Freshman Maggie Vaitkus was the anchor on that relay and felt that she has come a long way since the start of the season.

“The first half of the season I had a really hard time,” she said. “I felt like I should’ve been going faster all the time. I always felt that I wasn’t necessarily swimming good enough. So going to conference and finally seeing those time drops was just the biggest relief.

“I hadn’t dropped time in the 50 (free) in three years. So to come here and finally do that was so amazing. It was such a rewarding process.”

The NCAA Championships are March 13-17 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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