By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half
ROCHESTER – This one was for the coach.
The East Grand Rapids girls swimming & diving team drove across the state this weekend to Oakland University to attempt to repeat as Lower Peninsula Division 3 champion without a key figure: legendary head coach Butch Briggs.
Briggs, who had led East Grand Rapids to 22 MHSAA Finals titles, is still recovering from surgery performed last week and wasn’t present for this year’s meet.
But Briggs no doubt had a smile on his face after his girls entered the meet as underdogs but once again left as champions.
Despite entering ranked No. 3 in LPD3, East Grand Rapids won its fourth straight title (the 2017 title was in Division 2) and 23rd overall, this time with 317 points.
Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood was runner-up with 306 points, while Bloomfield Hills Marian was third at 245.
East Grand Rapids assistant coach Chris Ingram didn’t want to get into specifics about Briggs’ surgery, but was obviously thrilled with how his girls rallied around the situation.
“We knew it would be a tight meet,” Ingram said. “The kids, they just swam well. A great group of kids to work with. We don’t talk much about other teams. We can only take care of what we can take care of. We swam lights out.”
The East Grand Rapids team of sophomore Sophie Williams, junior Claire Witting, junior Emma Israels and sophomore Barbara Bart won the 200-yard medley relay in a time of 1:45.04, and sophomore Greta Milnes won the 100 freestyle to comprise the first-place finishes for East Grand Rapids.
The Pioneers had three second-place finishes, two of which came in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays, and a third-place finish as well.
“They’re champions,” Cranbrook head coach Chris Bailey said of East Grand Rapids. “A shoutout to their coach, who is in the hospital now. No doubt, those girls swam inspired for him. He’s a great guy, and I’ve learned a lot from him. They’re rock stars.”
The individual standouts of the meet were Cranbrook junior Justine Murdock and Battle Creek Harper Creek senior Alysa Wager.
Wager won the 100 butterfly in a time of 54.88 and the 100 breaststroke in a time of 1:04.50.
Murdock won the 200 individual medley in 2:05.62 and set an LPD3 Finals record with a first-place time of 54.53 in the 100 backstroke.
Murdock repeated as backstroke champion and improved on a fifth-place finish at last year’s meet in the individual medley.
“I was a little bit sick last year at the state meet, so that kind of made my state meet harder to manage,” Murdock said. “I’m a little healthier now, and I was ready to do this for my team. I definitely was hungry, and I’m really excited for sure.”
Other individual winners were Cranbrook junior Gwenyth Woodbury in the 200 freestyle (1:49.07), Hamilton junior Hannah Fathman in the 50 freestyle (23.95), Adrian senior Anabelle Hurley-Rosen in diving (459.15) and Plainwell sophomore Riley Nugent in the 500 freestyle (5:01.39).
Cranbrook won the 200 and 400 relay events with times of 1:36.20, and 3:27.93, respectively.
PHOTOS: (Top) East Grand Rapids' Greta Milnes swims to the championship in the 100 freestyle Saturday at Oakland University. (Middle) Cranbrook's Justine Murdock swims to the win in the 200 IM, one of her two Finals victories. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
MARQUETTE – Thanks to the informative meet announcer, the Upper Peninsula Swimming & Diving Finals crowd gets to learn a little bit about each participant – from basic facts like who their parents are to why they like the upcoming race.
In the sprints, that can generate some predictable answers, like the many athletes who pointed out they like that event because it’s one of the shorter races.
Before the grueling 500-yard freestyle event, Marquette senior Grace Sobczak and freshman Olive Krueger brought a little levity and originality, both saying it was because they get to beat the other one.
That, however, is easier said than done for anybody.
Sobczak finished her high school career Saturday a perfect 4-for-4 in the event, and she also repeated as the 200-yard individual medley champion and was part of winning 200 and 400 free relay teams at Marquette Senior High School.
Krueger had a great day as well, pushing Sobczak more than anyone else. She was runner-up in a close finish to Sobczak in the 500 while winning the 100 freestyle and helping the 400 free relay to a win.
“They trained right next to each other,” Marquette coach Nathan McFarren said, “and fed off each other. Just incredible to watch. They one-upped each other and pushed each other up until the race every day.”
They led Marquette to its third-straight U.P. championship as they and their teammates dominated the nine-team field with 386.5 points; runner-up Gladstone had 258. Ishpeming Westwood took third with Kingsford fourth, Houghton fifth, Sault Ste. Marie sixth, Ishpeming/Negaunee seventh, Rudyard eighth and Manistique ninth.
Sobczak said her dad wasn’t a big fan of the pre-race joke, but she said everyone laughed. And in the end, the duo put on a great 500 race with Krueger coming on strong late.
“I had to push myself in that race a lot,” Sobczak said.
That’s her favorite event; she’s a distance swimmer and that’s the only true distance event. Winning that one Saturday and making it a perfect 4-for-4 meant a lot to her.
“It’s amazing, crazy,” Sobczak said. “I got up there, and I started crying because it’s so surreal.”
She was even more reflective at the end of the day.
“I’ve been swimming since I was 6 years old. This was my last race at this pool,” Sobczak said. “We’re three in a row, it’s pretty crazy. Last year I got four (U.P. titles), this year I got four, it’s pretty cool.”
Her coach said she’s quiet but a great leader. She “stepped it up this year with taking charge as a senior,” McFarren said.
And she has a teammate she can pass the baton to in Krueger. While Krueger finished less than two seconds after Sobczak, the next swimmer was more than 30 seconds behind Krueger.
“I knew it’d be close because we always race together, but I’m glad she won,” Krueger said.
Freshman Kaytlin Roell finished first in the 50 free as Marquette won its 28th U.P. Finals team title and fifth over the last six years.
Gladstone senior Adrianna Getzloff had a big day, finishing first in the 200 free and the 100 backstroke. She also helped the Braves to a first-place finish in the 200 medley relay.
Two of her teammates also had first-place finishes – sophomore Irene Neumeier won the 100 butterfly and junior Mary Hook took the 100 breaststroke. They were also on the 200 relay team along with Ava Getzloff.
Westwood sophomore Maggie Harvala won the diving competition with a score of 214.90.
McFarren made it a combined 17 Finals championships as coach for boys and girls for Marquette, tying Marquette’s Matt Williams for the meet record.
PHOTOS (Top) Marquette's Grace Sobczak swims to a victory in the 500-yard freestyle Saturday. (Middle) Kaytlin Roell swims the 100 breaststroke for Marquette. (Below) Gladstone's Mary Hooks swims to the win in the breaststroke. (Click for more from Jarvinen Photos.)