Swim and Dive ends successful season with fun team scrimmage

A+FUN+ENDING%E2%80%94NMU+swimmers+look+ready+for+an+event+earlier+in+the+season.+Both+teams+had+good+seasons%2C+and+finished+the+year+with+a+team+scrimmage.+Photo+courtesy+of+NMU+Athletics

A FUN ENDING—NMU swimmers look ready for an event earlier in the season. Both teams had good seasons, and finished the year with a team scrimmage. Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics

Travis Nelson, Sports Editor

The Northern Michigan University Swim and Dive Team faces plenty of pressure to perform at their best when it counts. However, after a successful season for both the men’s and women’s teams, the Wildcats concluded the year with a team scrimmage to take the pressure off on Friday afternoon. 

The idea of this scrimmage came about in 2020, but COVID-19 rained on their parade for the past two seasons. There wasn’t an ounce of seriousness in the races, with the NMU athletes taking on themselves and competing in unusual events for some of them. After the work that the Wildcats put in over the course of the season, it was a fun way to end mandatory practice.

“We finally got to do it this year, it was a lot of fun,” NMU coach Heidi Voigt said. “Just pressure off, and to see them just enjoying each other, they never get to come in and have a free swim in the pool. They’re always on task, so it was a little hard for me to watch (them) warm up, but I had to step back and look at the joy on their faces and just how happy they were. That was just really big, and they needed it.”

“I think it’s really important to have this moment, because after today, they start getting ready for finals. Then they kind of go their separate ways all summer, so it’s their last time to be together.”

What made this even more enjoyable for the ‘Cats was the success that both teams had this year. The women’s team won their second GLIAC title in three years, and the men’s team finished in second place. 

The Wildcat women had a stretch where they would come up short in second or third at GLIACs, but the team has gotten over the hump and has shown no fear because they know they can win it, Voigt said. Winning the title and again being able to wrap this season up the way they did, was a cherry on top.

“I think you can just see, even with the atmosphere, everybody was laughing and having a good time cheering each other on,” junior Jenna Joerger said. “There was nothing serious that happened in the pool today, but just having a team atmosphere that can have that at the end of the season and such a good season for us too, is something that’s really cool. Being able to win GLIACs as a whole team and bringing in an incredible freshman class to help us get there again is something that was really cool this year.”

The men’s squad had a good season also, but lost some talent over the course of the season with a lot of different issues, Voigt said. However, the team brings in 14 incoming freshmen and will have a new cast. What won’t be new is the success of junior Ondrej Zach leading again next season.

Zach is a newly-crowned National Champion in the 1650-yard freestyle, and finished sixth at the Open Water Championships in both the 5K and 10K events. Talk about pressure, arguably nobody had to face more than him over the last year having to win the biggest races on the grandest swim stage. 

“It was an amazing experience,” Zach said. “NCAAs are different in that you never know who’s going to come to the meet, what other people are incoming freshmen, and they did such a good job. I was able to control the race and I had a strategy going behind the blocks and I just stayed with it and it worked out. So I’m just happy about it.”

The bigger meets might not be as fun as the scrimmage was with the building pressure, Zach said. Which is the main reason why everyone on the team was having a grand ol time at the scrimmage. 

Joerger was also a part of Nationals, and was one leg of the All-American and school record setting 800-yard free relay team. All of the time put in to be able to make a mark at NCAAs is a moment that she will never forget, she said.

“Just training all season for a big moment like that and actually getting there was super exciting,” Joerger said. “And the atmosphere’s completely different, it’s something that you never really see, and getting on the big stage with all of the big schools was really fun.”

As much as the scrimmage felt like the close of a good season, it also feels like a beginning to next season. Around the NMU Swim and Dive program, success is expected. As it turns out, so is taking the next jump for the women to repeat as GLIAC champs, and the men to get there too.

“I fully expect to, that is the goal every year,” Voigt said on her team improving next year. “We only have a few seniors graduating, almost every scorer is returning and that’s huge. Actually everyone who went to NCAAs is returning, so it’s really big.”