By Dean Holzwarth
Special to Second half
HOLLAND – East Grand Rapids' Emily Lundquist has dedicated more than 10 years to the pool.
On Saturday afternoon, the perfect scenario unfolded to close out her high school career.
Lundquist was a part of the Pioneers' 400 freestyle relay team that won the final event, and they did it with a record-breaking performance.
East Grand Rapids clocked a Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals-record time of 3 minutes, 30.35 seconds to wrap up another MHSAA team title.
“It was incredible to end a meet like that, and basically my swimming career,” Lundquist said. “I've been swimming for 11 years, and that's the last time I'll ever swim. It was a great event.”
The Pioneers dominated Saturday's MHSAA girls swimming and diving LP Division 3 Finals at Holland Aquatic Center.
East Grand Rapids tallied 362 points, while Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood was a distant second with 220 points. Detroit Country Day was third with 162 points and Holland Christian recorded 153 points to take fourth.
It was the Pioneers' 18th MHSAA Finals championship in girls swimming and diving, and they achieved success this season with a team bolstered by a talented group of underclassmen.
“The best part of this for us is to see the culmination with the joining of a great age-group program with our high school program,” longtime East Grand Rapids coach Butch Briggs said. “Our age-group program feeds us better than everybody else, and this is the year they all got to come together.”
It was East Grand Rapids' first team title since 2010, and on Saturday its depth played a vital role with several top finishes.
“This is pretty great,” Lundquist said. “We won my freshman year, and since then we've been trying to get back up to the state title. It's been a lot of hard work on our part, and we implemented a new lifting program. I'm so proud of our freshman class and the entire team because we've been very determined. Since day one we've set a goal to win a state championship.”
The Pioneers also won the 200 free relay with a Finals-record time of 1:36.05.
The relay team was powered by sophomore Emily Converse and freshmen Lexus VanHoven, Hanna Sanford and Gabby Higgins.
Briggs, who was tossed into the pool after the awards ceremony, said a positive sign came during Friday's preliminaries.
“It was the best prelims we've had at East since I've been here,” he said. “That put us in position today to be able to just go after some things and be comfortable. These kids have risen to the occasion all year, and our relays were amazing. It's a great group of kids, and I was just so pleased.”
Converse placed runner-up in the 200 free behind Holland Christian's Ashlee Sall, but redeemed herself with a win in the 500 free (5:02.57).
“I was a little scared after I lost to the girl in the 200 and I was top seed in that, but the girl next to me took it out fast and I thought I would be able to come back and beat her,” said Converse, who also was a key cog in the winning 400 free relay. “It felt really good, and we were excited to come back to Division 3 this year and win it.”
Hamilton junior Stephanie Johnston overcame two years of disappointment at the Finals to notch a pair of wins.
Johnston swam to victory in the 50 free with a time of 23.81 and edged Higgins by 0.07 seconds. She followed that with another close win over Higgins in the 100 free.
“In past years I would get nervous, and those nerves would get to me, but I wasn't nervous at all today,” Johnston said. “After (Friday's) prelims, I was a little iffy about whether I could do it, but I got here today and got super pumped up from everybody else and how they were doing. I went out and got what I was going for, and it felt really good because it also broke my personal records.”
Hamilton coach Eric Talsma said a lack of confidence prevented Johnston from performing her best at past Finals.
“We've been waiting for a breakout meet from her,” he said. “She swims fast regular season, but it's been a bit of a struggle at state meets. We really needed her to attack her races and not wait for something bad to happen. Friday she was a bit apprehensive, but today she just went after it and just attacked it.”
Johnston also anchored the Hawkeyes' runner-up finish in the 400 free relay.
PHOTOS: (Top) East Grand Rapids athletes pull coach Butch Briggs into the pool for the traditional celebratory dip after winning Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final. (Middle) Swimmers keep pace during a race Saturday. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
WEST BLOOMFIELD — When she started high school swimming last fall, West Bloomfield sophomore Elizabeth Eichbrecht didn’t know what expectations to have, given she knew full well the high level of competition there was throughout the state.
Well, after two seasons, it’s safe to say Eichbrecht has blown any expectations she had out of the water, pun intended.
At the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals on Nov. 17-18 at Eastern Michigan University, Eichbrecht won her third and fourth individual championships.
She won the 200-yard freestyle in a time of 1:48.08, more than three seconds ahead of the next finisher. The winning time qualified for All-America recognition and bested her first-place time from the 2022 Finals by 0.34 seconds.
Later on, Eichbrecht won the 500 freestyle in a time of 4:47.66, more than 11 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Her All-American time in that event was more than five seconds better than her winning time in 2022.
Two years, four Finals titles. Not too shabby.
“Yes it’s surprising, because there are so many fast girls and we are all very competitive,” Eichbrecht said.
Eichbrecht already holds six school records – in all four freestyle events, the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly.
She also owns Oakland Activities Association records in the 200 and 500 freestyles and the 100 butterfly.
“I like the distance events more, mainly because I don’t have to all-out sprint,” Eichbrecht said.
West Bloomfield head coach Ronson Webster said the big reason why Eichbrecht was even better this year as a sophomore after making such an impact as a freshman wasn’t necessarily because she was bigger and stronger, although those were contributing factors.
Mainly, her success this year was the validation that she belonged after such a great freshman season.
“She gained more confidence this year going into her races,” he said. “She focused on racing her race and not who was next to her. Meeting the time we worked for was the goal. Winning is a bonus.”
While Eichbrecht excels at so many events, her specialty has been the 200 and 500 freestyles, which is stating the obvious given the Finals titles she has won in those events.
“Her training is very specific as it is for every swimmer on our team,” Webster said. “Everyone is trained differently. Her technique is very important and specific to her event and body size. Since she is shorter, she can’t swim the same as a tall person. Having the right technique designed for the swimmer and the correct race plan goes a long way.”
Eichbrecht next will focus on her club season for Supernova Swim Team based out of Farmington Hills, and she already is looking forward to competing at the Winter Junior Nationals in Columbus from Dec. 6-9.
By the time her career is over, it’s safe to say Eichbrecht might be the best all-time from a West Bloomfield school that’s not known as much for swimming as other Oakland County powers such as Farmington Hills Mercy or the Birmingham schools. But Eichbrecht is relishing putting her school on the swimming map with all her success so far.
“I love swimming at WB,” she said. “My teammates are amazing, and they work super hard. I’m super proud of all the work they put in this season, and I can’t wait for next season.”
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTOS (Top) West Bloomfield’s Elizabeth Eichbrecht swims the winning 200-yard freestyle Nov. 18 at Eastern Michigan University. (Middle) Eichbrecht talks with runner-up Yan Yee Adler from Ann Arbor Pioneer after also winning the 500 freestyle. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)