Nov. 10, 2013
More than seven months had passed since the University of Michigan men's swimming and diving team held up its 12th national championship trophy in Indianapolis.
On Saturday (Nov. 9) at Canahm Natatorium, in front of family, friends and alumni, the 45 student-athletes, six coaches and nine support staff members from that team each received personalized NCAA championship rings from director of athletics Dave Brandon and head coach Mike Bottom, a token for all the hard work and dedication that was put in to helping U-M win its 55th national championship.
The NCAA officially sanctioned men's swimming and diving as a collegiate sport in 1937. Up to that point, Michigan had already established itself as one of the nation's best teams, winning seven "unofficial" national championships from 1927-36. In the 76 years since, the Maize and Blue added a dozen more -- the most in the history of the sport -- solidifying its presence the national powerhouse.
The phrase, "The Team, The Team, The Team" has become the rallying cry for every team at Michigan. It may have been born at the Big House, but at the Natatorium, it's preached by Bottom every single day. All of it -- the fast swims, the trophies, the rings -- were all made possible because of the team, from two-time national champion Connor Jaeger on down. Everyone contributed. Bottom wouldn't want it any other way.
"It's more than a team win. It was a Michigan win," he said. "It is a win with the understanding that we are champions. We are the Leaders and the Best. I believe you win championships to give back, to be champions for the world and for people who need champions. You win to change the world."
Jaeger was one of those champions. He was one of the catalysts of that team, winning national titles in the 500-yard freestyle and 1,650-yard freestyle as well as helping the 800-yard freestyle relay team to a runner-up finish. To him, last year was possible because of one thing -- believing.
"We had a super-competitive team, a group of racers that wanted to win every time they got up on the blocks and believed they could do it," he said. "That's what it takes to win a championship. You have to believe. The power of belief is unbelievable."
Zachary Turk was only a member of the team for one year, but he made it count. Prior to last season, Turk transferred to Michigan as a graduate student from Kenyon College, an NCAA D-III powerhouse in Ohio. During his four-year collegiate swimming career, he was a part of three national championship teams -- two with Kenyon and one with Michigan.
He received two watches at Kenyon for being a part of those teams, but never a ring. On Saturday, surrounded by men that he called teammates for only a year, Turk couldn't help but speak in humble tones.
"This is just another opportunity to represent Michigan and be a part of the team," he said. "To have been a part of this team was not only exciting, but incredibly rewarding. My only regret is that I was able to spend one year here."
For Dylan Bosch, a standout freshman on last year's team, receiving a national championship ring was the icing on the proverbial cake. Coming over from South Africa, he couldn't have imagined a smoother transition -- or a more perfect finish.
"It's pretty much unbelievable," he said. "We worked really hard as a team. Seven months later, here we stand. I'm just happy that I could have been a small part of something so large and get a reminder for the incredible year we had."
"It's not even about holding up the trophy. It's winning, knowing that we did it," Jaeger added. "The trophy and these rings symbolize that, but knowing that 2013 is in the books and Michigan won? That is what's most important."
At the Natatorium, Saturday's ceremony allowed everyone to celebrate, but it also serves as a reminder for what the ultimate goal is, something not lost on Jaeger.
"It's something I'll remember for the rest of my life," he said. "It reminds you that it's possible. It reminds you of who you are. At the same time, what are we going to do next? You can't just harp on the past. It's good to understand who you are, but it only helps if you're interested in where you're going."
Related: Wolverines Lead Coast to Coast to Win 12th NCAA Title (March 30)