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What Else Is Blue: An Abrupt Season Finale

Michigan has cancelled the remainder of its athletic season. We recap what we can, and start talking about what’s next.

Walt Middleton Photography 2020

Yesterday at 2 p.m. ET, I submitted this week’s column with the following disclaimer: “I would not be surprised if I preview at least one event here that simply doesn’t happen. I’d almost say I’d be surprised if everything I preview here does happen.”

I had no idea how correct I would be proven. At the time I was first writing a few leagues had been suspended; the Ivy League, Horizon and SEC baseball. But the Big Ten remained a holdout, and I was hopeful. Now, the Big Ten and the rest of college sports have canceled their spring seasons.

Some teams, like women’s basketball and swimming, were getting ready for NCAA Championship play. Others, like lacrosse and softball, were just getting going. At 4:18 pm yesterday, all of their seasons came to an abrupt end. For some athletes, that is also the end of their career.

Attending random Michigan events is a pretty important part of my life. While I don’t make it to an event every weekend, people know how closely I follow the less-heralded Michigan sports, and it’s become a major part of my identity. This is, to stay the least, a huge bummer for me.

But I’m just some guy. The people I really feel for are for the athletes. For the athletes who might not have a their senior night. For the men’s gymnastics team, who thought they might win a national championship in front of a home crowd. For the baseball team that thought this might be an unprecedented season in fan support. For the women’s lacrosse team, trying to repeat last year’s perfect home regular season. As sad as I am, I cannot imagine what they must be feeling.

Reports are starting to come out that the NCAA is exploring extending eligibility for athletes in spring sports. But for a graduated senior in a sport you’re not going pro in, do you take that redshirt, or do you just hang it up? I feel for everyone who might make that decision.

Today, I have recapped the sports that took place last week, just like I might have if this were a regular column. I have included some brief season summaries, and imagine I’ll be looking a little more closely at some of these seasons in the coming weeks. I do have some other ideas, I’d like to explicitly recognize the seniors a little more than I had the space to here. I’m not entirely sure what this unusual off-season will look like, but as our fearless leader wrote yesterday, the Maize n Brew staff will figure out how to be here for you.

Let’s talk about sports, shall we?

Women’s Basketball (21-11, 10-8 B1G)

Last week: Big Ten Tournament: 81-75 W v. Nebraska, 67-59 W v. #12 Northwestern, 66-60 L v. OSU

Last week at the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan earned a trip to the semi-finals, where they fell to OSU. On the way they scored a huge upset over #12 Northwestern, a team they had lost to twice in the regular season. In the second round they participated in the 7/10 match against Nebraska. Nebraska had a 42-34 lead going to half, but Michigan bounced back in the third, opening with a six point run and ultimately holding the Huskers to just 10 points. Behind 22 from Amy Dilk, 20 from Naz Hillmon, and a career high 12 from Izabel Varejao, Michigan was able to earn the chance at an upset.

In their meeting at Crisler, Michigan held Northwestern’s most prolific scorer, Lindsey Pulliam, to just 4 points, though they ultimately still lost the game. Michigan was able to follow the same defensive formula and ride it to a win this time, holding Pulliam to 9. Hillmon had her second 20 point game of the tournament, and Michigan again rode a strong third quarter to a victory. Michigan made their second consecutive Big Ten semifinal.

Unfortunately, in that semifinal they could not get by Ohio State. Michigan lost by just six, never quite able to make up their 32-26 halftime deficit. Hillmon went for 22 and added 16 rebounds, and Michigan was even able to tie it in the fourth, and despite a couple quick OSU runs were down just 3 with a minute to play. However, OSU was able to drain the clock and hit a shot, and while the last minute turned into a foul fest the game was over.

I imagine at some time within the next few weeks I’ll have time to write a full post-mortem for Michigan’s women’s basketball season. I was bullish on this Michigan team, truly believing this might be the one that vaulted Michigan into the spotlight. That didn’t quite come to pass, but injuries to two starters cost them in the Big Ten season. For now, I’ll give this season an incomplete. Soon, we can talk about what next year might look like.

#22 Wrestling (7-6, 5-4 B1G)

Last week: 7th of 14 at Big Ten Championship

Michigan travelled to the Big Ten Championship, and while they had many wrestlers come close, no Wolverine was able to take home an individual championship. Yes, that means that heavyweight Mason Parris unfortunately fell in the championship, losing a tight 8-6 decision to Minnesota’s Gable Stevenson. Michigan’s Jack Medley was the next-best finisher, coming in third place at 125 pounds. Kanen Storr and Will Lewan both finished fifth at 149 and 157 pounds respectively.

Seven Wolverines qualified for the now-cancelled NCAA Championship. Parris would have been the second seed in that tournament, on a collision course with Stevenson for a rematch. Michigan’s next-best seeds were Storr and Lewan, both at 10. Medley was a 14-seed. Joining them were #33 Tyler Meisinger at 165 pounds, #26 Jelani Embree at 184 pounds, and #27 Jackson Striggow at 197 pounds. Of Michigan’s NCAA qualifiers, only Striggow is set to graduate.

Track and Field

Michigan was to participate in the NCAA Indoor Championships this weekend. The men qualified in two field events: Manning Plater in the weight throw, and Big Ten Champion Andrew Liskowitz in the shot put. Plater will have to wait for the NCAA to sort out what their plans are for special-circumstances redshirts, as he was a senior. Liskowitz was a graduate student, and his Michigan career is likely over.

On the women’s side the distance medley relay of Alice Hill, Chloe Foster, Aurora Rynda and Meg Darmofal qualified. Of the four, Darmofal is set to graduate as she is already in her fifth year, but the rest will return.

#3 Men’s Swimming & Diving (6-1, 4-1 B1G)

Last Week: Boiler-Make-It Last Chance

While five Wolverines participated in Purdue’s Last Chance Meet, it was not enough for any of them to qualify for the NCAA Championship. Twelve Michigan swimmers qualified. Felix Aubock and Ricardo Vargas qualified for three races each, with Aubock qualifying and the second and third seeds in the 500 and 1650 freestyle, respectively. Tommy Cope was Michigan’s other top-5 seed, at 2nd in the 200 breaststroke and 10th in the 200-yard individual medley. Miles Smachlo would have been the 6th seed in the 100 yard butterfly, and also qualified for the 200 fly. Patrick Callan would have joined Aubock in both short free events. Jeremy Babinet was the 7th seed in the 100 breaststroke, the 11th in the 200 breaststroke, and the 18th in the 200 IM. Charlie Swanson qualified for both IM races, as well as the 200 breaststroke. Will Roberts, Danny Berlitz, Rob Zofchak, Luiz Gustavo Borges, and Will Chan rounded out the team, with one event each.

Of Michigan’s qualifiers, Babinet, Cope, Smacho, Swanson and Zofchak are all set to graduate.

This week would have been the Zone C Diving Championships. Michigan had five divers attempting to qualify for nationals, including one-meter Big Ten Champion Ross Todd.

#5 Women’s Swimming & Diving (6-0, 4-0 B1G)

The Michigan women also would have competed at the Zone C Diving Championships, sending seven athletes. Those divers included Nicki Canale, who made the Big Ten finals in both one-meter and three-meter.

For completeness, here is the listing of NCAA Qualifiers in swimming, direct from last week’s column: Maggie MacNeil led the way as the 1st national seed in the 100-yard butterfly. She was also 4th in both the 50 and 100 freestyle. Daria Pyshneko was to join her in both freestyle races. Miranda Tucker’s 3rd seed in the 100-yard breaststroke was the Wolverines’ next best seed; Tucker also qualified in the 200 breaststroke. Rounding out the top five seeds is Sierra Schmidt’s 4-seed in the 1650 free. Schmidt was also scheduled to compete in the 500 free, with Kaitlynn Simms joining her in both races. Olivia Carter and Vanessa Krause both qualified in the 100 and 200 butterfly, with Carter adding the 200-yard individual medley. Chloe Hicks and Victoria Kwan qualified the 200-yard backstroke and 400-yard IM, respectively. Additionally, all five relay teams qualified.

#7 Women’s Gymnastics (12-1, 9-0 B1G)

Last week: 198.100-197.425 L v. #1 Oklahoma

Michigan headed to Oklahoma to take on the #1 team in the country and came up less than a point short. After posting record scores in consecutive meets, the Wolverines scored a still-robust 197.425. There were many bright spots at the meeting, including Abby Brenner earning a 9.975 on vault, though a 10 from Oklahoma won the event. Gabby Wilson and Lexi Funk had the team’s high scores on floor, with each earning a 9.925, as part of a tie for third.

The women’s gymnastics team has an extremely bright future. Natalie Wojcik is only a sophomore, and Gabby Wilson and Sierra Brooks are both freshman. The only senior that regularly participated in two events was Funk. Michigan was a very young team, and while it would have been exciting to see what heights they could have reached this season, it will be fun to watch them continue to break school records next year.

#2 Men’s Gymnastics

Last week: 2nd of 3 v. #6 Illinois, #8 Penn State

Michigan picked up its first non-win of the season, earning second in a three-way meet against two other top 10 Big Ten teams, losing to #6 Illinois on their floor but beating #8 Penn State. Still, Michigan picked up several individual wins, with Paul Juda earning a 15 on floor to win that event. Juda also won vault, while Cameron Bock picked up a pair of titles himself in high bar and parallel bars.

This is among the cancellations that hurts the most. Crisler Arena was set to host the NCAA Championships. The last time Michigan hosted, Michigan won. While its not certain another national championship was coming, it certainly would have been fun to watch them attempt to claim it on their home floor. Like the women, there is a ton of youth at the top for the Wolverines. Cameron Bock will have one more shot next year as a senior, and national team member Paul Juda is only a freshman. They’ll be in the championship hunt against next year, and next year’s championship venue has not been announced. It’s worth wondering if Crisler might just get to host in 2021.

#3 Men’s Tennis (14-3, 1-0 B1G)

Last week: Pacific Coast Doubles

Michigan had two teams at the Pacific Coast Doubles tournament. Ryan Fu and Harrison Brown went 2-2, reaching the Consolation Quarterfinals after a first round loss in the main draw. Along the way, they beat fellow Wolverines Teddy Oosterbaan and Jonny Yaffe, who went 0-2.

Michigan will have two key seniors graduate, Connor Johnston and Nick Beaty. Still, the program is in good hands. Both of Michigan’s top 50 players are lowerclassmen, with sophomore Andrew Fenty ranked #17 in the country, and Ondrej Styler ranked #32. Styler had a great freshman season and should only improve. Either one should have a real shot at an individual national championship, and there are other experienced underclassmen waiting in the wings to replace the two seniors. Michigan came in with little hype this year and climbed all the way to #3, next year people will know to watch out for the Wolverines.

#17 Women’s Tennis (5-6)

Last week: 4-1 L @ #13 Pepperdine

Women’s tennis travelled to Pepperdine, where their road losing streak unfortunately continued. Michigan’s only point came from doubles, where the Andrea Cerdan/Alyvia Jones pair won a 6-0 sweep. All four singles points were won by Pepperdine in straight sets, though Jones had pushed her match to a third set that was abandoned.

Michigan had played a tough schedule and their record probably obscures how good they actually were. They were the second-best ranked team in the Big Ten, and it is likely the Big Ten Championship would have been a two-team battle. Michigan had three players in the individual top 100, led by Guilia Pairone at #30. Michigan has two regular starters set to graduate, Pairone and Chiara Lommer.

#7 Water Polo (11-8)

Water Polo had been off for a week. They never fell out of the top 10, and had played one of the toughest schedules in the country. They were the best-ranked team in their conference, and set to host the conference championships. None of their top scorers are set to graduate, and the team has a very deep bench. Next year they should be able to pick up right where they left off.

#13 Women’s Lacrosse (5-1)

Women’s lacrosse had last week off, and will head on the road this week for a matchup with the Bearcats. Cincinnati will be upset-minded but are one game under .500. The Wolverines will then host Denver in a ranked match. Michigan will be looking to get some measure of revenge after Denver eliminated them from the NCAA tournament last year. Denver’s only loss so far was in Nashville against Vanderbilt, who the Wolverines have since beaten.

Other than the men’s gymnastics team, this is the ending I’m saddest about. Michigan had qualified for its first NCAA Tournament last season and were well on their way to qualifying for their second. A match this Sunday with ranked Denver could have been some revenge over the team that forced their tourney exit last year. After last year’s season opening hot streak, Michigan was stifled by some of the top Big Ten teams, and I was excited to see them get another crack at conference play, not as an upstart but as a legitimate contender. Of their top scorers, both Kirby Chandler and Molly Garret were set to graduate.

Men’s Lacrosse (4-3)

Last week: 17-11 L v. #5 Yale (Costa Mesa, CA), 13-12 W v. Marquette

Men’s lacrosse lost a neutral site game against Yale, but bounced back to take a narrow home win against Marquette. Rocco Sutherland and Clay Bryce led the Wolverines in the loss, each earning a hat trick. In the win, Marquette scored the first two but Michigan responded with a 6-0 run, with Alex Buckanavage scoring three straight to tie and take the lead. Marquette’s comeback was slow and steady, with the tie coming at 11-11 after the Golden Eagles scored three straight. The teams traded goals, and Rocco Sutherland scored the game winner with 3:21 to play.

Michigan men’s lacrosse remains almost stuck between two phases: they’re clearly making strides towards being competitive within a Big Ten conference filled with national powers, but they aren’t quite over the top yet. This was Kevin Conry’s third year as head coach, and I think they would have had a real shot at a Big Ten Tournament berth. Each little step forward from Conry makes recruiting easier, and next year will finally be the year where the whole team is his guys. Overall this team is really young, with only Rocco Sutherland graduating among the top scorers.

Women’s Golf

Last week: 3rd of 12, Florida Gators Invitational

Women’s golf put together their second straight top five finish, coming in third in the Florida Gators Invitational. Michigan barely edged conference-mates Penn State, 869-879. Michigan put four golfers in the top 25, with Ashley Kim shooting a final round 68 to jump to third. Hailey Borja and Ashley Lau were part of a tie for seventh, and Sophia Trombetta came in 22nd.

Michigan was just hitting its stride, and it would have been fun to see if they could maintain their momentum. Like several other Michigan teams, this one is young, with no one who has made a tournament roster this spring set to graduate.

Men’s Golf

Last week: 8th of 12, Desert Mountain Intercollegiate, Scottsdale, AZ

Michigan played host at the Desert Mountain Intercollegiate in Scottsdale. Michigan placed in the middle of the Big Ten teams in contention, behind Purdue but in front of Nebraska. Michigan’s top finisher was Pier Francesco De Col, who tied for 15th at 221.

This was coach Zach Barlow’s first season, so it’s hard to evaluate. This offseason will be all about how he can recruit. Brent Ito will graduate, after splitting time with junior Charlie Pilon as Michigan’s best player last fall.