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Reload, not rebuild: Despite departure of many seniors, Northern Michigan University swim teams still look to excel on national stage

Northern Michigan University men’s swimmer Luke Delaney competes in the 200-yard butterfly in a January 2018 meet against Wisconsin-Green Bay at NMU’s PEIF pool. (Shannon Stieg photo)

“We have so many incoming athletes…. There’s lots of new energy coming in and I’m really looking forward to it.” — Heidi Voigt, head coach, NMU men’s and women’s swimming and diving

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MARQUETTE — The swimming and diving teams at Northern Michigan University are two of the most successful programs at the school, racking up all-conference and All-American awards on a regular basis.

Last season wasn’t any different as the women’s team won seven of its eight dual meets with the only loss coming to NCAA Division I Bowling Green State. These Wildcats also earned several All-American awards, while breaking five team records and six PEIF pool records.

The Northern men swept all of their dual meets and won the Calvin College Invitational for the first time. In addition, the NMU men established a pool record and broke four team records.

Northern Michigan University women’s swimmer Rachel Helm holds an award at the GLIAC Championships held in Cleveland in late February. (Photo courtesy NMU)

“It was a really great year,” Wildcats men’s and women’s head coach Heidi Voigt said. “We had so many seniors and I think we graduated almost half the team. It was really kind of an ending of one era and I’m excited for the fall.

“We have so many incoming athletes, we have 11 women coming in and eight men. It’s going to be kind of us re-establishing the culture that we want and getting everybody on board. There’s lots of new energy coming in and I’m really looking forward to it.

“I think (assistant coach) Matt (Williams), our recruiting coordinator, has done a really good job of bringing in some new talent. I’m pretty excited about it. On the men and the women’s side, we’ve graduated 12 senior women as well. We have 11 replacing them coming in. I’m excited to see what they can do.”

As far as who are going to be NMU’s leaders this year, Voigt listed several athletes with two-time national champion and two-time GLIAC Swimmer of the Year Rachel Helm standing out for the women.

“I definitely think there’s some good returners and that they’ll be ready to go,” Voigt said. “I think Rachel is excited about starting her senior year. She wants to go out making a statement. So I’m excited about her.

Northern Michigan University's Jamie Kimble competes during the women's three-meter diving competition against Wisconsin-Green Bay on Jan. 12 at NMU's PEIF pool. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Stieg)

“I think (Honorary All-American) Mary Grossman learned a lot last year as a freshman diver about how things go and that college diving is a little different than club and high school diving, so I think she’ll be able to take that on for sure.

“On our men’s side, we do have some good returning talent, (including) Jonas (Reinhold), who we’ve taken to the NCAAs that last couple years. He has been an integral part of some of our relays. Lajos (Budai) is coming back and he’s a senior. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go and finish with a bang as well.

“We also have some good incoming talent and I’m excited to see how good they are. You recruit them and you don’t really know until you get to watch them race and work with them.”

While coaches in some other sports may not expect as much from their freshmen, that’s not the case for Voigt. She expects her incoming swimmers and divers to be able to compete at a high level from the start.

“Swimming is a little bit different in the sense that most of them come in and have already been doing the training very similar to what we’re doing,” she said. “For us, it’s not like another sport that you have to learn a whole new offense. It’s kind of the same stuff they’ve been doing. A lot of times we come in and expect those incoming athletes to really step up.”

Unlike last season, there are only two dual meets at Northern’s PEIF pool this season, with the other two home events being intrasquad matchups. The Wildcats host Findlay on Oct. 11-12 and Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Nov. 9.

“It’s a little more of a road year this year,” Voigt said. “It’s just how it works in some of our rotations, going there and coming home and that kind of thing. But we have a pretty good lineup.

“Our men, I know, would love to go down to beat Grand Valley (State) at their pool. We haven’t been able to do that yet. We’ve beaten them the last couple years when they’ve come to us, but we’ve always loved to go down and take care of business.

“We’re really excited to go to Fargo (North Dakota). Minnesota State Moorhead is hosting that meet in Fargo and it’s in the old, I think, 2016 Olympic trials pool. It’ll be a fast pool and it’ll be fun to swim in. When you’re in that kind of environment, you can do well, so we’re looking forward to that meet as well.”

The GLIAC Championships at Saginaw Valley State will be tough as always, but Voigt likes her team’s chances, especially on the women’s side where there’s some good depth.

“Expectations are always high and I want to win every year,” she said. “Honestly, I just think that any year could be the year where anything could happen. If everybody’s healthy and everybody is mentally ready to go, it can happen on either side.

“Our women look pretty strong and we definitely have the numbers. We’ve got a pretty good diving squad on the women’s side and that can always rack up a bunch of points.

“I think if we can keep our numbers up in what they have been, we keep up our numbers to about 18 athletes getting to nationals (in April in Geneva, Ohio). I think our women’s diving squad is pretty talented. I think we could get three or four of those women to go to nationals.

“We had three qualify last year and there’s only 22 women that qualify each year and three of them were ours. So that’s a pretty good sign, but I think we could even bump it up to four this year. I think we’re young, but we’ll be exciting.”

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