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March 23, 2005 - Image 12

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12 - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

School first: Softball N

By Seth Gordon
Daily Sports Writer
There is nothing like two heartbreaking
losses to sour a team's attitude. But for the
Michigan softball team, the opposite has
been true.
After two tough losses in last year's Wom-
en's College World Series, the Wolverines
have taken a more laid back attitude onto
the diamond. The result has been a school-
record 27 consecutive victories and the first
No. 1 ranking in school history.
"I think that we're having fun this year,"
senior shortstop Jessica Merchant said.
"I think that's why we've played so well,
because we're relaxed and we're having
fun."
Michigan (27-1 overall) catapulted from
No. 4 in last week's poll to the top spot after
knocking off then-No. 1 Arizona, 6-2, in the
championship game of the Kia Classic last
weekend in Fullerton, Calif. The Wolver-
ines haven't lost a game since dropping their
opener to then-No. 17 Baylor on Feb. 11.
Michigan is only the fourth school - and
first outside the Pac 10 Conference - voted
to the top spot in the ESPN.com/USA Soft-
ball poll in its three-year history, and will

put its winning streak on the line this week-
end at the Courtyard by Mariott Louisville
Classic in Louisville, Kent.
Last season in the World Series, life wasn't
as easy for the Wolverines - they suffered
back-to-back crushing defeats to Louisiana
State and Stanford.
In its opener against Louisiana State,
Michigan gained and then gave up a two-
run lead in the 12th inning before losing
3-2 in the 13th on one of the most bizarre
plays in World Series history. With a run-
ner on first, Merchant fielded a ground ball
between shortstop and third but misfired on
her throw to first. Right fielder Courtney
Betley backed up the play and threw home to
keep the runner at third, but catcher Monica
Schock was unable to handle her throw and
Louisiana State's Sara Fitzgerald scored the
winning run.
"I think a little bit more when I field those
backhands and throw to first base," Mer-
chant said jokingly. "It's definitely a moti-
vating factor. You work that hard and you
get so close and have the talent and the team
to do it, but a couple of bad bounces and it's
over."
A 5-4 loss to Stanford knocked the Wol-
verines out of the tournament two days later

o. linpoll
when Schock was a split-second late on her
tag at home plate, which again resulted in
the winning run.
But this season, the players aren't letting
those bad bounces get to them.
"I don't think you can pinpoint it, but I was
talking to one of the girls that graduated and
I told her, 'It's just different,' " Ritter said.
"I don't know if it's more laid back, but we
have a different attitude. Even if the bounces
don't go our way, there's nothing you can do.
As long as we go out and compete hard every
day, we'll give ourselves a great chance to
win every ball game we're in."
The change in approach has even spilled
over into the stands.
"(Michigan coach Carol Hutchins) always
jokes about the parents because they get so
excited for us this year," junior third base-
man Grace Leutele said. "I think, because
they can see us having fun, they have fun
watching us play like that. If we're tight on
the field, I bet if you go up in the stands, the
parents are going to be tight too. It's like a
reflex all the way around."
Michigan is making its second straight
trip to the Louisville Classic, where they
went 4-0 last season, including a 4-2 victory
over the host Cardinals.

Senior Jessica Merchant believes a change In her team's attitude has helped it to a No.1 ranking.

Vanderkaay leads 'M' to NCAAs

By Kevin Wright
Daily Sports Writer
After months of grueling work-
outs, endless hours spent at the pool
and a third-place finish at the Big Ten
Championships, the No. 5 Michigan
men's swimming and diving team's
season will culminate at the NCAA
Championships in Minneapolis on
March 24-26.
The Wolverines have ten swimmers
competing at the NCAA Champion-
ships - including Big Ten Swimmer
of the Year Peter Vanderkaay. Juniors
Chris DeJong and Davis Tarwater and
senior Andrew Hurd will also lead the
way for Michigan (5-0 Big Ten, 7-2
overall).
Vanderkaay enters the NCAA Cham-
pionships with a No. 1 seed and in the
500-yard freestyle. He also secured two
No. 2 seeds in the 200- and 1,650-yard
freestyles. Tarwater holds two top-10
seeds in the 100- and 200-yard butter-
fly, while DeJong has two top-10 spots
in the 100- and 200-yard backstroke
events. Hurd enters his final champion-
ships as a Wolverine and will swim in
the 200- 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle
as a 34th, 29th and 17th seed, respec-
tively. He will also race in the Wolver-
ines' No. 5-seeded 800-yard relay team,

hoping to defend last year's title in that
event.
With nearly a month to prepare for
the NCAA Championships, Michigan
coach Bob Bowman believes that his
swimmers can perform at their highest
capability.
"A lot of the guys swam unshaved at
the Big Tens and have been pointing to
this meet all year," Bowman said. "I've
seen a lot of improvement from people
from the Big Tens to this point, so I
expect everyone to swim faster."
In Minneapolis, the Wolverines will
face some tough competition against
schools like Stanford, Southern Cal
and Big Ten champion Minnesota. Still,
Bowman thinks that the competitive-
ness of the other teams is not as impor-
tant as the mindset of his team.
"Our toughest competition is our-
selves," Bowman said. "If we walk out
of there with 100 percent best times, I'll
be perfectly happy regardless if we're
20th or first. We're trying to go and
have everyone improve from the con-
ference meet to the NCAAs."
While some of Michigan's top swim-
mers never had to worry about quali-
fying for the NCAA Championships,
freshman Alex Vanderkaay had to wait
until March 14 - the day consider-
ation times came out - to find out if

his NCAA consideration times were
fast enough to qualify. When the times
were originally posted, Vanderkaay did
not make the cut. Then, after several
swimmers from other universities were
dropped, Vanderkaay was informed
that he made it in.
"It was kind of like a rollercoaster of
emotion," Vanderkaay said. "I'm just
happy to get in because I think that I
can drop time. I was thrilled. I went
from being in a bad mood to a great
mood. It was great."
While freshman Alex Vanderkaay
will enjoy his first appearance in the
NCAA Championships, senior Bren-
dan Neligan is thrilled just to compete
in it again. After tearing his MCL last
winter, Neligan missed out on last
year's NCAA Championships. He had
to bear not only with the recovery from
his injury but also with the fact that the
championships were in his hometown
of Long Island. Always a teammate,
he traveled with the team and cheered
them on as Michigan finished fifth.
This year, Neligan - in his third
NCAA Championships - will swim in
the 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle as the
37th and 24th seed, respectively. Know-
ing that this will be his last time swim-
ming for Michigan, Neligan hopes that
he can swim at his best and have fun.

"I just want to go out on a high note,"
Neligan said. "The most important
thing for me is to prove that I'm enjoy-
ing what I'm doing. I'm doing it for my
parents, my two sisters and rest of the
guys on the team. That's who I'm going
to be thinking about when I step up on
the blocks."
While the team doesn't have great
depth in the sprinting events, Neligan
is confident that the Wolverines have an
excellent chance to finish in the top six.
Bowman - in his first NCAA Cham-
pionships - feels that his team will be
able to come out and compete with the
top teams. The intense dry-land and
pool training during the season condi-
tioned the Wolverines in preparation for
this last event, and Bowman believes
that his swimmers are well prepared
mentally and physically.
The Wolverines will also enjoy the
bonus of having already swam in a
premier event at the Aquatics Center in
Minneapolis during the Big Ten Cham-
pionships.
"It's going to be very loud," Bowman
said. "At this meet, everyone's fired
up because you're swimming for your
school, you're swimming for yourself
and, in terms of the pure speed of the
event, it's the fastest swimming meet in
the year."
MEN'S TRACK AND FIELD

Peter Vanderkaay is the top seed in the 500-yard freestyle for the NCAA Championships.

Road trip tradition

!V ,r
a14

By Ian Robinson
Daily Sports Writer
It is never a good sign when a mechan-
ic says your car has a 50-50 chance of
making it home. But that was the situa-
tion that senior pole vaulter Craig The-
issen and his l-year-old car faced last
weekend. He and 31 other members of
the Michigan track teams had made the
868.3-mile journey from Ann Arbor
to Fayetteville, Ark., to cheer on their
teammates at the NCAA Indoor Track

and Field Championships.
"I gave it more of a 20-80 (chance of
returning)," Theissen said. "We drove
back with our fingers crossed."
The road trip to Fayetteville for the
indoor championships has become a track
team tradition.
"The groups have been traveling for
three or four years, and, recently, it has
become huge," senior David Batani said.
"We realize how important it is to support
one another, whether it is field events, dis-
tance or sprints."

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continues
The Wolverines recognize rw luclky
they are to have talented teammates-th*at
compete in the national meets.
"We have seen nobbdy make nationals
and now we have seen national champi-
ons," Batani said. "Our role is to support
our teammates."
The volume of the :heeers coming
from the Michigan section demonstrat-
ed tthncouragement they gave their
teammates.
As the runners ran down the home-
stretch, the Arkansas fans went crazy
with "Go Hogs!" chants. But as they
made the turn down the backstretch,
cheers of "Let's go Blue! Let's go
Blue!" reverberated through the sta-
dium. When the competitors made the
turn down the home straightaway, the
cycle repeated itself.
More than 3,000 fans made the noise
in support of Razorback athletes. The
noise in favor of Michigan came from
fewer than 100 people.
"We embarrassed them in a lot of ways
because we are so ridiculously rambunc-
tious," senior Nick Meter said.
Theteam's repertoire of cheers includ-
ed the standard Michigan chants like
"Let's go Blue" and "The Victors." They
'also cheered the names of the Michigan
athletes and, this season, introduced the
"old" soccer cheer.
"To hear their fight song or words of
encouragement can give them that confi-
dence to succeed," Senior Craig Thiessen
said of the athletes competing. "Not only
for themselves, but for everybody else that
is there representing them."
The athletes appreciate the support
that their teammates provide. In fact,
senior Nate Brannen sent an e-mail to his
teammates and thanked them for their
support.
"(With the team's support), it almost
feels like that is a home meet for us,"
Brannen said. "It makes it a little easier
for the athletes."
The Wolverines traveled down to
Arkansas as a team and paid their own
way, emphasizing a growing trend on the
track team - erasing the lines between
sprinters, distance runners and field ath-
letes to create a team atmosphere.
"It's an indication that the team came

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