Wildcats dive into season today

MARQUETTE – As Lake Superior’s waters get colder, the Northern Michigan Wildcats women’s swimming and diving team will be plenty warm as it gets ready to open its season today.

Last year’s squad finished with a ranking of 12th in the nation and took third place at the GLIAC Championship. The Wildcats sent seven athletes to the NCAA Championships and had two All-American swimmers in current senior Debbi Lawrence and sophomore Rachel Borchardt, along with an All-American diver in senior Molly Kearney.

During the season, Lawrence set school records in both the 50- and 100-meter freestyle.

“That was our best season in over 10 years,” Wildcats head coach Heidi Voigt said. “You always hope that your team has a good season, but they went far beyond my expectations.

“They improved a lot from the year before and I had a freshman (Borchardt) that really shined. I recruited her to do one event and she ended up excelling in other events.

“All in all, I was very pleased with how the year went.”

With 10 returning seniors, the experienced Wildcats appear to have the tools needed to win the conference and have an even better showing at the NCAA Championships.

“My group of seniors really set the bar high last year,” Voigt said. “As a result, I’m expecting a lot out of them.

“Debbi did a great job last year in the sprints and Crystal Bennet has also improved a lot. I also think one of our sophomores, Courtney Konopitski, is also going to have a good season.

“Madi Sechena has looked good in the pool, too. Our distance group has also been amazing.”

Kearney will be the team’s leading diver, but Voigt is confident teammates Sophia Garris, Julia Mead, Karsyn Textor and Bridget Waas will provide ample support.

“I’m definitely feeling good about our divers,” she said. “Molly is a two-time All American and we still have two years left with her. She’s healthy and has performed well. We also have some other capable divers.”

When looking at the GLIAC, Voigt thinks her team stacks up well against contenders Wayne State and Grand Valley State.

“We’ll have to see how Wayne and Grand Valley’s freshmen look, but I like how we look,” she said. “I think we will be in the top three again and that’s one of our team goals.”

The Wildcats’ first meet is today and Saturday in Minnesota at St. Cloud State, where they will take on the Huskies, Minnesota State-Moorhead and Northern State. NMU hosts its first meet next Friday and Saturday against Minnesota State-Mankato at the PEIF.

“This week’s meet will be a good way for us to start,” Voigt said. “On paper, we look really strong and I feel confident that we will do well.

“As far as our first home meet goes, Mankato has a good team and it’s split between two days because they are traveling a long way, so they want to get as much racing in as they can. We will get to do a lot of events and there will be scores for both days.

“We will then have another home meet against Saginaw Valley State (Nov. 8) and then our last one against Grand Valley State and St. Cloud (Nov. 15).

“What’s really fun is that both those schools will be bringing their men’s teams, so there will be a dual with the guys and then a tri-meet with the women. Next year, we will have a men’s team, so hopefully we can join in then.

“This is a lot of home meets for us and that’s typically not the case. It’s hard to get teams to travel up here with only their women’s team, so I think having a men’s team will help us get to host more events.”

As this weekend approached, Voigt and her squad become more pumped for the first whistle.

“I’m excited and the girls are even more excited, especially because we only have to travel twice this semester,” Voigt said. “They have been swimming fast and practicing very well. They definitely want to show what they can do and the seniors really want to go out with a bang.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is rstieg@ miningjournal.net.