Swim and dive nationals come to abrupt end


COMPLETED SEASON—The cancellation of the national championships brought the 2019-20 NMU Swim and Dive season to an end. Junior Gabriella Spajic will be back next year hoping to deliver another GLIAC title.

Travis Nelson

Although the entire sports community has been affected by COVID-19, the NMU Men and Women Swim and Dive team found themselves in a unique situation with its national championships being cancelled in the middle of the meet.

The five-day championships hosted by Spire Institute in Geneva, Ohio were cancelled halfway through the second day, and the Wildcats were on the way to the pool to compete in the night’s finals on Thursday, March 12 before hearing the news.

“We were heading back to finals and weren’t sure what was going on. I was expecting to swim but was ready for anything. When we got back to the pool, they weren’t letting any athletes in,” Head Coach Heidi Voigt said. “The team was pretty shocked, and I think most of them were definitely bummed out with good swims that night and really good events coming up the rest of the week.”

In the one night that the champioships did get on Wednesday, March 11, freshman Amanda Baird received All-American honors for her fifth place finish in the 3-meter dive with a total of 423.95 points. On the men’s side, junior Ondrej Zach was named an Honorary All-American with his 11th place finish in the 1000 yard freestyle with a time of 9:10.62. Also competing for the women in the 1000 yard freestyle was junior Gabriella Spajic, finishing in 22nd with a time of 10:13.72.

Spajic was fortunate enough to compete in the shortened championships, but the feeling of an abrupt ending resonated with the entire team.

“I think it was a bit bittersweet because I was able to compete in two of my events, but when we did find out, it was all kind of a big shock and a bit surreal,” Spajic said. “Some of us were quite upset, especially some seniors who didn’t get to complete their season how they would’ve liked to. It was a big shock to everyone and no one could see it coming, so it was a bit hard to kind of digest and really come to terms with.”

One of those seniors was Lajos Budai, who was looking to add another All-American honor to his resume. His previous successes have helped him get through his career ending in the way it did, but his disappointment was clear.

“Actually it helped me a little bit (his previous results), I feel better but this is my last year so I wanted to make top eight (All-American) again or make top three, so I had high hopes for the 100-backstroke,” Budai said. “And sadly, I didn’t even get to swim, and that’s an awful way to end to be honest with you because I didn’t even have a chance to try.”

Budai said he was devastated at the fact that the meet was cancelled, but he was more hyped for the conference meet because the entire team went, rather than just individuals. Despite how Budai along with other seniors’ careers finished, Voigt said that they will be remembered for much more.

“I think the way it ended can’t shadow everything they’ve done in their four-year careers, and have had so many great moments and great performances for the Wildcats, and I would say to be proud of that,” Voigt said. “It’s a bummer way to end, but it was really out of everyone’s control.”

In her career as a coach, the only thing that Voigt could compare this situation to was when one year, a stomach bug invaded the championships and had to delay events. However, with how fast everything happened, this was unlike something she had ever seen. It was first time that she was a national championships that was cancelled, especially in the middle of the meet, Voigt said. She also mentioned one of her divers had just gotten done an hour prior. The decision resulted in shock for her and the athletes.

“We were just in that meet mode, and to realize, ‘wait a minute, we’re all done’, and we had these expectations, people were ready to swim,” Voigt said. “It wasn’t until I got home that I was pretty bummed out about it, my first feeling was to take care of the athletes, and they seemed to be taking it well.” 

Members were aware of the affects that the pandemic wreaked all around the world, and since things were out of their control like Voigt
mentioned, staying positive was what got them through it. Budai and Spajic were able to participate in the championships along with several other Wildcats, but there were many who didn’t get to touch the pool.

“I think we tried to stay positive for a day and a half (of national championships), while Division I didn’t even get to swim, so I think we tried to look at the positive side of it,” Budai said. “But it was obviously pretty hard, especially for people that didn’t get to swim at all.”

The team had a near 10-hour drive back home, and along with the teammates that remained in Marquette, the team’s bond kept it together. 

“As a team together, we were all upset, and I think we just tried to make the most of it,” Spajic said. “We tried to stay happy and support each other, and when we got back to campus, all of our other swim teammates were supportive and they asked us if we were ok.”

Overall, with the women winning the GLIAC championships, and the men finishing top three, the swim and dive season had its highlights. However, still getting an All-American honor and top finishes in the one and a half days of competition can put a good note on what must have tasted sour.

“As for the team and the coaches, we were all upset that the season didn’t end the way we had planned the season to go, and we had already had a pretty great season in general,” Spajic said. “This was the largest team that we had brought to nationals, and we’re all a close knit group of mates, and at the end of the day that’s what happened, we can’t do anything to change it.”