College Swimming: Bylander already looking forward to next season
While the awards and recognition didn’t stop, Michael Bylander’s season ended one invite too early.
Bylander, a 2018 Brainerd High School graduate and current University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire swimmer, qualified for the NCAA Division III championships. That event was scheduled for March 18-21 in Greensboro, N.C. The former Warrior was primed for the competition before it was announced it would be canceled three days before the start of the event.
“I was in class when I heard the news,” he said. “It was really disappointing to hear, but it was for the best because of the virus. It was just very disappointing but was just very thankful it wasn’t my senior year unlike some of my teammates. I still had the opportunity to compete for two more years.”
Bylander qualified for nationals in the 200-yard breaststroke by winning the event at the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association championships in February. He broke a conference record, which was set in 2013, with a 2:00.87. That time placed him among the top 16 Division III swimmers in the nation, but Bylander was poised for an even bigger time drop at nationals.
“At the qualifying, I think I won the 200 breast by three seconds and so I didn’t have as much competition than at nationals,” Bylander said. “There were eight guys who were within a half-second of me so that would have been a bunch of competition at my level to try and differentiate myself and try to get into that top eight.”
The sophomore also qualified to swim the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard backstroke at nationals. Qualifying in the breaststroke, however, wasn’t part of the preseason plan.
“I had been a backstroker all year and then a month before our last event, I switched to breaststroke to try and qualify for nationals and it ended up working out,” Bylander said. “The whole season my coach was thinking I was going to make it in the backstroke.”
Following the cancelation of the NCAA Championships, Bylander was named a College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America Division III All-American. He was also selected as a team captain for the 2020-21 season despite being a junior.
Even without the final event as a benchmark for next season, Bylander’s goals for his junior season are high.
“That’s a conversation I’m about to have with my coach,” he said. “It’s going to be probably trying to beat where I was at during conferences by our midseason meet. I’m going to try to get where I was at the end of last season by the midpoint of next season. Then I know I can be at where I want to be for my goals by the end of my junior year.”
Bylander was named WIAC Kwik Trip Athlete of the Week Jan. 28 after winning all seven events he competed in during an event against the University of St. Thomas and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He won the 200-yard individual medley in 1:58.10 and the 100-yard backstroke in 53.19 seconds. Bylander also contributed to the first-place 200-yard medley relay team. Against UW-Whitewater, he won the 100-yard backstroke in 53.44 seconds and 200-yard breaststroke in 2:11.77. Bylander also helped the 200-yard freestyle relay and 400-yard medley relay teams to victory.
With the help of the college’s strength and conditioning coach, Bylander is still working out. He said he really needs to lift weights and get stronger for next year, but said there’s no doubt he’s a stronger swimmer now than when he was in college.
“I am a lot better,” Bylander. “I think our high school coach (John) Zemke did a really great job of developing the technical aspect, but it’s just guys keep on getting bigger into college and don’t stop growing. It’s mainly that. Also in college, it’s a longer season. Zemke only has, I think, two and a half months to work with us vs.the college season which is closer to six months long. There is just so much more time and practice time because you can do doubles in college where we are working out in the morning and in the afternoon and working out three and a half hours a day.”
Bylander entertained thoughts of the Olympic trials before that was canceled, too. It was mainly to continue training with a teammate who had qualified, but if things go as planned for next season, Bylander may have to set bigger goals.
“It was mainly an afterthought because my teammate was training,” Bylander said. “Maybe if I continue to improve then maybe I would.”
School: University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Sport: Swimming and diving
Events: Breaststroke, Individual medley
High school: Brainerd