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Men’s College Swimming: Bylander breaking records everywhere he swims

Former Brainerd Warrior Michael Bylander is prepping for his final conference championship.

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Michael Bylander

BRAINERD — It was a cold holiday break morning when the Brainerd Warriors boys swimming and diving team gathered for practice.

Aside from the normal coaches and student-athletes, a familiar face was walking the pool deck at Brainerd High School.

On his own holiday break, former Warrior and current University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire swimmer Michael Bylander attended practice. As things concluded and the team was finishing with what they call standups at the end of practice, Bylander hit the pool, but before his turn, Brainerd head coach John Zemke asked Bylander what he was going to swim and in what time.

Bylander called out the breaststroke, looked at the record board and called his time.

“When he finished he had gone faster than our all-time pool record,” Zemke said.”It was fun to watch. Obviously, we’re not going to change the pool record, but it was a fun story. He’s a great guy and he addressed our team about his time here and his expectations and mental prep that he still does that he started when he was here.”

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The mental prep put Bylander in a decent spot as a college freshman, but it wasn’t until his sophomore season that things clicked.

“Zemke really just hammered the mental prep and training so mentally I was in a really good spot when I got to college,” Bylander said. “After my sophomore season, the training lined up with the mental prep and it just clicked and I was able to go times that I never thought I would be able to go.”

In the 2020 Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships, Bylander won the 200-yard breaststroke with a personal-best time of 2:00.87 to win the event and qualify for the Division III National Championships. Bylander also placed third in the 200 individual medley with a 1:51.99 and was second in the 100 backstroke with a 51.50.

“It’s been a little bit of a rollercoaster the last few years,” UW-Eau Claire head coach Annie Ryder said. “His sophomore year he snagged one of the last spots in the 200 breaststroke and just watching the results come in with conferences across the country we knew he was either going to be the first out or the last in and he ended up being the last in. Then two days before we were scheduled to fly out they canceled all NCAA competitions because of COVID-19.

“Then last year, obviously, there was no winter sports in terms of the NCAAs for Division III. He did end up with the second-fastest time in the country, which was awesome. Now this year, he’s currently sitting sixth in our country in the 100 breaststroke and they typically take 15 per event, but there are a lot of championship meets coming up, including our own so we know he’s going to swim a little faster than that so his chances are really good in qualifying in some of his events and relays as well.”

On March 9, 2021, with the NCAA Division III National Championship already canceled, Eau Claire and UW Stevens Point concluded their seasons with an unscored dual meet.

Bylander set a school and conference record in the 200 breaststroke with a 1:57.84. The time unofficially broke the conference record as the WIAC only tracks times at the conference championship. Bylander’s swim is the fastest in conference history. The time crushed the old school record of 1:59.37 set in 2014. It’s also the 17th-fastest swim in the history of the NCAA Division III swimming and ranked him as the seventh-fastest swimmer.

He also won the 200 breaststroke and 100 backstroke and set pool records in both of those events.

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“It’s been pretty disappointing,” Bylander said. “Last season was tough because it was up to the Division III coaches across the country whether there was going to be nationals. We were the only division not to have a national championship. That was tough to watch Division I and II compete at the NCAA knowing there wasn’t one for us.”

During Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s final home event Jan. 29, against Wisconsin-Whitewater, Bylander helped the 200-yard medley relay to a first-place time of 1:33.98 and the 200 free relay to a first-place 1;28.32.

“I do surprise myself with the times I can put down now,” Bylander said. “It’s really been awesome being able to follow my swimming progress from being coached by Zemke to being coached by Annie and just the development, especially with boys getting stronger. It is surprising how fast you get and how fast these people are in college.”

Ryder praised the Brainerd swim program and Zemke, saying Bylander was prepared for college swimming. Now he’s preparing for his final WIAC, which will be Feb. 16-19. Bylander will swim the 200 breaststroke, 100 backstroke, 200 individual medley and a handful of relays.

“This is the fastest team that I’ve ever been a part of,” Bylander said. “It’s the fastest program in years. Earlier in the year, we beat one of our rivals, UW-Stevens Point, for the first time since the ‘90s. So it’s really exciting that we have the chance to win our conference championship and then there’s also a really good group of guys that are hoping to do well at nationals. It’s just a really exciting time.

“I’m really hoping at this conference meet to win my races for my team to get those points and also have times that rank competitively in the nation. I would like to be ranked in the top eight in all of my events. That is something that is a goal for me, to hit those times that I’ve been thinking about all season and put myself in a place to be a competitor at nationals.”

If things go well, the NCAA Championships will be March 16-19 in Indianapolis. That will be the last time Bylander swims competitively for Eau Claire. Next season he’ll be attending the Minnesota School of Dentistry.

“Honestly, it sounds wrong to say, I feel less pressure,” Bylander said. “As a senior going into this, I had three previous seasons to get comfortable with the training and I know what I can do. So going in as a senior, I know what to expect and so it’s just a lot more experience going into this final meet. Just having fun is the main priority going into this final meet because it is my final meet. “

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And he will be missed by his coaches.

“He’s definitely one of the top swimmers in the conference and it’s been really fun to see him progress in his four years here,” Ryder said. “The progression from his freshman year to his sophomore year was huge. He put on a little muscle mass and his training picked up.

“Seeing him going through the process his sophomore year and seeing the times he put up at the conference meet and then qualifying for NCAAs really gave him motivation going into his junior year. I think it was really cool to see him do so well in a year when so much was unknown last year. We didn’t even know if we were going to be able to compete at all. Just seeing that second-fastest time in the country, breaking school records and just having that confidence.

“He’s just an athlete that’s really excited about swimming. He enjoys training. He enjoys all aspects of swimming. He’s a really great teammate. He’s a lot of fun to coach. He has a lot of energy on deck and we’re sure going to miss when he’s gone.”

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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