Despite falling by a final score of 169-118, the NMU Swimming and Diving team gave a determined effort against the visiting Chargers of Hillsdale College on Nov. 22. Several Wildcats had standout individual performances in the defeat, including one athlete who missed qualifying for National competition by the slimmest of margins.
“[The meet] went well,” head coach Bob Laughna said. “Hillsdale’s a pretty good team, no question. They’ve got some individuals who are real good. They’re going to go places.”
Hillsdale is currently ranked seventh in the conference, one place ahead of NMU.
Again, Northern’s 14-member squad faced a team with the advantage of superior numbers.
“Even though Hillsdale only brought their top 16 swimmers, they have 40 swimmers to choose from, so they can bring only their top 16,” Ashley Oliver said.
The Wildcat swimmers stepped up to the task, however, as several athletes competed in consecutive events for the good of the team.
One such athlete was distance specialist Sarah Cempel. She gamely competed in the 500-yard freestyle race (taking third with a time of 5:45.55), got out of the pool and promptly climbed back onto the starting blocks for the 100-yard butterfly. This all came after she earned third place in the 1650-yard freestyle race earlier.
Captain Emily Olson also swam consecutive events, and led the team with the only individual swimming win, clocking in a time of 1:02.19 in the 100-yard butterfly. Despite any possible issues with fatigue, Laughna was impressed with her racing.
“I think she surprised herself,” Laughna said.
In addition, Olson placed fourth in the 200-yard butterfly, held earlier in the meet.
Junior Hannah Bolger also performed well. After missing several weeks earlier in the season because of medical complications, Bolger continued to drop time after her return at NMU’s last meet. She earned second place in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 1:15.58. Bolger stated that she is still several seconds from her lifetime best times, and hopes to better them by the end of the season.
Ashley Oliver, a walk-on freshman at Northern, swam the 100-yard backstroke in 1:03.59 (third), and the 200-yard backstroke in 2:17.75 (second). Both were season-best times for Oliver. She joined the NMU squad this year after attending community college for two years, during which she was unable to compete in swimming. Although a bit out of practice, Oliver is confident she will continue to improve.
“I haven’t swam in two years,” Oliver said. “I’m looking to get down to my lifetime bests by the end of the season.”
Despite her hiatus from competitive swimming, Oliver’s contributions to the team have been enormous, and coach Laughna said he is very pleased with her progress and performance.
“Definitely a keeper,” he said of Oliver.
NMU divers Kelli and Kara Vander Baan again experienced success in the 3-meter and 1-meter events. The divers took first and second place in the 3-meter competition. Kara won with 252.75 points over her sister’s 243.20. Kelli won the 1-meter with 238.5 points, and Kara followed in third with 225.85.
Kara narrowly missed the NCAA National Swimming and Diving meet qualifying score in the 3-meter, finishing fewer than three points away from the required 255. NMU Diving coach Andy Ward said he hopes coming so close will serve to further encourage Kara.
“She still has a few other dives that we’re going to get the degree of difficulty up a little bit higher in her list of dives to do,” Ward said. “So if she can end up pulling off another meet (like the one she had today, with) a higher degree of difficulty, she should have no problems.”
Ward said he was also pleased with the consistency throughout the performances of both sisters.
The swimming team and the diving team is now preparing for this weekend’s upcoming invitational meet at Eastern Michigan University, where they will compete against various Division II and III schools, as well as Division I competitors like the University of Michigan. Competition will start on Dec. 5.
Upon returning from the winter break, the team will have four weeks remaining in the competitive season, and will host Grand Valley State University in the PEIF pool Jan. 31 before gearing up for the GLIAC Championships.