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March 30, 2006 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-03-30

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Thursday
March 30, 2006
sports. michigandaily. com
sports@michigandaily.com
S
Seniors suit up
flor final game

POER [u TS tiiTS
SPrr

11A

N MEN'S SWIMMING & DIVING
Departing leaders
pass thegtorch

By Kevin Wright
Daily Sports Editor
NEW YORK - It will be the last
time Michigan's starting five steps
onto the court as a unit.
The collection of seniors Daniel
Horton, Sherrod Harrell, Graham
Brown, Chris Hunter and redshirt

and ou
"WhenN
we toldI
go as fa
Thed
In the
bounced
skid an
seniors

junior Lester Abram has started each has retui
of the Wolverines' NIT
games, and the group
will run onto the court TONIG.IT.
at Madison Square Gar-
den one final time to.c i n
face South Carolina in
the NIT championship 7pnm.
game at 7 p.m. tonight. Min Square (arden
"I'm biased to our
seniors," Michigan ESPN
coach Tommy Amaker
said. "I'm very much
attached to that group
of players. They are the type of play- to end (y
ers you always want in your program. ingful g
They have done anything and every- in the w,
thing we have asked them to do." cities in
Ever since the Wolverines slid ship," Hi
down the stretch of the regular sea- The C
son, losing seven of nine to eliminate each bri
themselves from NCAA Tournament streaksi
consideration, Amaker has made it a gan (22
point to put the burden on the seniors ning wa
to refocus the team. crown tm
"I thought I owed that to our kids
.................................................................
Procrastination Station
Michigan 63, S. Carolina 58
" Play of the game - H old-
ing a slim advantage against
a hungry South Carolina team C(
looking for its first lead of the
game with under a minute to go, South C
Michigan PG #4 stole the ball "Congra
and took it in for an easy dunk Bell onI
to give Michigan a cushion. to be 1
nation."
" Player of the game - Michi-
gan SG #5: He scored a game- "C #44
high 18 points, including two the gan
3-pointers. regulars
the Wol

r program," Amaker said.
we got into this tournament,
those guys we were going to
r as they take us."
decision has paid off so far.
NIT, the Wolverines have
d back from their late-season
d turned the corner. With the
setting the tone, Michigan
urned to the defensive inten-
sity that helped it jump
out to a 16-3 record at the
beginning of the season.
Now, the seniors have
a chance to end their
careers as Wolverines
with a victory. They'll
face a South Carolina
team that easily dis-
patched Louisville, 78-
63, in the other semifinal
game Tuesday night.
"This is the best way
your career), playing a mean-
ame in one of the best arenas
world and one of the greatest
the world for a champion-
unter said. "It's great."
Gamecocks and Wolverines
ing eight-game NIT winning
into tonight's contest. Michi-
-10) has continued its win-
ys in the NIT after taking the
wo years ago. South Carolina
See NIT, page 12A

By Anne Uible
Daily Sports Writer
ATLANTA - Before the start
of the NCAA Championships' final
event, the 400-yard freestyle relay,
senior captains Chris DeJong, Davis
Tarwater and Peter Vanderkaay hud-
dled up with freshman Bobby Savu-
lich behind lane five. In a union of
the Michigan men's swimming and
diving team's past and future, the
seniors came together for one final
team effort and passed the future of
the Wolverines on to a new class of
Michigan men.
"I had to rein my emotions in for the
race," Tarwater said. "Being a Michi-
gan athlete has meant so much to me.
It's the most important and meaning-
ful thing I've done in my life. Know-
ing that it was my last time wearing
the block M' was hard to grasp."
Four years ago, three freshmen came
to Ann Arbor like most other first-year
athletes - virtually unknown. But after
four years of development under former
coach Jon Urbanchek and current coach
Bob Bowman, DeJong, Tarwater and
Vanderkaay are leaving Michigan's
program to join the ranks of the Wol-
verines' legendary swimming alumni.
"It seems like yesterday these guys
were just skinny little freshmen,"
DeJong's mother Susan said in Janu-
ary. "It's bittersweet watching Chris
swim for the last time (for) Michigan.
Being a Michigan man means a whole
lot to him, and his experience here has
been so wonderful."
DeJong concludes his swimming
career as one of the most decorated
backstrokers in Michigan history. The
Holland, Mich., native holds school
records in the 100- and 200-yard
backstrokes and owns the rights to the
Big Ten record in the 200 with a time
of 1:41.24. While DeJong's future in
swimming is uncertain, he knows it
will be difficult to leave behind his
Wolverine history.
"It's very sad," DeJong said. "I
guess it really hasn't sunk in yet, but
it's going to be tough to realize that
I'm never going to swim for Michigan
again. It's a little overwhelming."
But DeJong takes solace in knowing
that he will always have his two best

friends, Tarwater and Vanderkaay.
"We're going to walk away with
lifelong friendships," DeJong said in
a January interview. "I guess that's
Michigan's gift to us after all we've
fought for it."
Tarwater echoed DeJong's senti-
ments.
"Those two guys have been my
rock at Michigan," Tarwater said. "I
don't know if I'll ever find as good of
guys, or as good of friends like them.
Words can't describe what it means to
be able to go out with them. It's been
an honor to swim with them."
Tarwater, who hails from Knox-
ville, Tenn., will have his name etched
in the history books for earning two
consecutive NCAA titles in the 200-
yard butterfly. The senior also owns
school and Big Ten records in the 100-
and 200-yard butterfly events. Tarwa-
ter is likely to continue his training in
hopes of earning a spot on the 2008
U.S. Olympic team.
Vanderkaay, whose accolades span
many strokes at varying distances,
will also be missed next season. The
Rochester native is a three-time Big
Ten Swimmer of the Year, a two-time
NCAA Champion and the Ameri-
can record-holder in the 500-yard
freestyle. Vanderkaay also won an
Olympic gold medal in the 800-meter
freestyle relay during the 2004 Sum-
mer Games in Athens.
Bowman knows he will have a
tough time filling the shoes of his
three graduating senior captains, but
he understands it's part of the process
of building a team.
"You don't replace people like
that," Bowman said in January. "You
just have to develop some more. Hope-
fully, it will be part of our growth next
year as we try and make our younger
swimmers like these senior leaders."
FOR THE KIDS: The team hosted a char-
ity event on Tuesday night at Rick's
American Cafe, raising $3,500 for
the family of former Michigan assis-
tant coach Eric Namesnik. "Snik"
passed away at age 35 in early Janu-
ary from injuries suffered in a car
accident. Please send donations to:
"SNIK'S KIDS," United Bank and
Trust, 2723 S. State St., Ann Arbor,
MI 48104.

FOREST CASEY/Daily
Daniel Horton leads Michigan in scoring with an average of 17.6 points per game.

Press
onference quotes
arolina coach Jack Herman:
ats to Michigan coach Scott
the NIT title. It means a lot
the 66th-best team in the
had two big blocks late in
me. He was hurt during the
season, right? There's no way
Ierines could fail to make the

NCAA Tournament with that
guy on their team."
"Apparently, someone actually
is worse than Coach Bell in
late-game situations - me."
"I think what we've learned
from this is that there are actually
three things certain in life - death,
taxes and Coach Bell bringing his
talented team to the NIT."
Michigan coach Scott Bell:
"South Carolina coach Jack Herman
tried to pull out all the stops. He had
literal home-court advantage, hosting
the game at his house more than 600

miles from Ann Arbor. He had us play
a different game - a game that I had
never played before - and he even
called for an emergency dinner break
midway through the second half.
What did it get him? A big fat 'L' for
his procrastination station debut."
"Am I worried about almost blowing
my 18-point lead? I'll answer that
question with a question of my own:
Was I ever voted best-dressed in
high school?"
"That's it for this year. I'll see you
all at MSG again next year, when
we make it three out of four. NIT
dynasty, bitches!"

Dreams can come true:
Walk-on singles in first at-bat

By David Murray
Daily Sports Writer

With one swing, Ray Fisher Sta-
dium transformed into Matt Fisher
Stadium.
In what seemed to be a meaning-
less at-bat late in a blowout, a walk-on
became a hero and fulfilled a lifelong
dream.
Michigan
had the game
in hand, lead-
ing Oakland
14-4 through
seven innings
in Friday
night's home
opener. Junior
Eric Rose was Matt Fisher
slated to lead
off the eighth, until Michigan coach
Rich Maloney deferred to the fans
who had been chanting the name of a
walk-on every time they saw his face
peek out of the dugout.
"Hey Fish, you want an at-bat?"
Maloney yelled. Maloney was refer-
ring to junior Matt Fisher.
"I understood the fact that if we
were up by a good amount of runs,
there was a shot I could get in," Fish-
er said. "I know the way coach works,
and he'll give you an opportunity if
he thinks that you deserve it."
In a scene that would make Rudy
Ruettiger blush, Fisher trotted out of
the dugout and the crowd - filled
with his family, friends, and 40 of
his Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity
brothers - erupted.
With his loyalists in a ruckus, the
Westchester, N.Y., native stepped into
the batter's box.
"I know our team was cheering
very loudly for him to be successful,"
Maloney said. "It was the highlight
of the game."
First pitch: A fastball down the
heart of the niate. Fisher took a cut

around his room. Walk-on tryouts
came around again, but the results
were the same - Fisher made the
fall squad but was released before
the spring.
"The day that he got back from
being cut, I saw him lying on the
futon in tears," fraternity brother
and roommate Mike Hilton said. "I
didn't have to say anything, because
his emotions and his look alone said
enough. He probably laid on the
futon for another day or so, and he
didn't even go to class. The first thing
he said to me was, 'It's over.' That is
all he said to me."
Fisher's psyche was deflated, but
the taste he got from getting so close
to making the team left him wanting
more.
With his family and fraternity
urging him to take another shot at
trying out for the team, Fisher once
again devoted his time to practicing
for the chance to sport the Maize
and Blue. His fortitude paid divi-
dends in his third attempt at walk-on
tryouts. Fisher made the fall roster,
but this time was also asked to join
the spring team.
Second pitch: A curveball that
hung up in the zone. Fisher waited
on the pitch and pulled it to the left
side of the infield. The ball rolled
between third baseman Rob Merk-

le and shortstop Jonathan Zalen-
ski, who knocked it down. Zalenski
threw a rope to first, but Fisher beat
it out by two steps.
"As soon as I hit it, I knew that I
had a shot," Fisher said. "I knew it
wasn't right at the shortstop, or right
at the third baseman. So as soon as I
hit that ball, I hauled ass. Once my
foot hit that bag and I knew I was
safe, I guess you could say for that
one single moment I was the happiest
man alive."
Although the game was already
won, the fans and players in the dug-
out exploded as if the team had just
won the College World Series. Fisher
raised his hands in excitement after
collecting the first hit of his career
and experiencing the crowning
achievement of his life.
Three years of grit and determi-
nation culminated in one hit, and a
walk-on became an inspiration to his
teammates and peers.
"Being able to get into a home game
for the University of Michigan, and
then being able to get a hit, is worth
every single second I worked," Fisher
said. "Every single time I was in the
weight room, every tear that I shed
after being cut, every time I went to
bed dreaming about the opportunity
of getting a hit - it was worth every
single second."

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