Monday, July 7, 2008

Club Wolverine: Making Waves at Olympic Trials

For the past week at the U.S Swimming Trials in Omaha, the University of Michigan has been constantly mentioned by broadcasters and swimming critics. In almost every single semi-final or final heat, for both men and women, there has been a swimmer with Maize and Blue ties. This is largely due to the fact that the University is home to one of the nation's most elite swimming groups in Club Wolverine.

Club Wolverine is a group of elite swimmers, most of whom are currently on the Wolverine roster or are notable alumni swimmers that have been swimming competitively since graduating. They are coached by Bob Bowman, Phelps' personal coach, since Bowman arrived in Ann Arbor almost four years ago. Assisting Bowman is John Urbanchek, Michigan's former swim coach that led the Wolverines to a National Championship in 1995. Urbanchek was enshrined into the International Swimming Hall of Fame this year and at 72 is the swimming equivalent to John Wooden in basketball. He has been a coach on the last 5 Olympic teams

The team has been the one of Michigan's best recruiting tools as far as its swimming program is concerned. For example, the signature "CW" that the Club's members wear on their swim caps have been seen all over the trials, the most notable swimmer wearing one being Phelps. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard the meaning behind the "CW" on Phelps's swim cap, I probably wouldn't have to work the rest of this summer. This kind of exposure is extremely valuable and plays right into the hands of U of M recruiting in getting the Wolverines' name out to the public as one of the best college swimming programs.

However, Club Wolverine's future seems uncertain with Bowman announcing his departure from the program to take a directorial position at his former aquatic center... taking prized pupil Phelps with him. Although losing the main attraction in Phelps will hurt, the Club should be in good hands in the coming years. Michigan has already sent a handful of underclassmen to this year's trials, in addition to a few highly recruited incoming freshman making the stop at Omaha before heading east to Ann Arbor. Incoming Coach Mike Bottom (formerly of Cal) has also asked Urbanchek to stay on to assist with the transition phase. Bottom is best known for coaching sprinters, but don't look for things to drastically change just yet. Bottom should provided enough of a sprinting balance (to the already well established distance program of Urbanchek) to give the Wolverines a shot at another national title within the next two to three years in collegiate competition.

So while Phelps may be on his way out of A2, and even though the program is on its last Vanderkaay brother, Club Wolverine looks to remain one of the top swimming programs for years to come.

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