GRAND RAPIDS – Hannah Williams doesn't mind flying under the radar. In fact, the Portage Northern sophomore has thrived in the underdog role.
Williams went from virtually an unknown freshman to shocking nearly everyone including herself with a pair of individual titles at Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 2 swimming & diving meet at Grand Rapids Northview.
She joined Jordyn Shipps of DeWitt as the only swimmers to capture two events in a meet won by Birmingham Seaholm for the third time in five years.
Williams, who didn't qualify for the Finals a year ago, won the 200-yard freestyle (1:49.42) and the 100 breaststroke (1:03.68), an admitted stunner for nearly everyone. Williams won three state titles in club swimming as an eighth grader, but didn't necessarily move the attention needle as a freshman.
"I'm as surprised as you – I didn't expect it," she said. "I don't know where it came from. I was kind of nervous, but my coach said just bust it, just go for it, just swim as well as I can. Nobody really knew who I was, and that was kind of a perk."
The same can't be said for Shipps, who was making her fourth Finals trip. She captured the 200 individual medley (2:02.50) and 100 free (50.80). Shipps, who is headed to Oakland University next season, credited her experience – combined with a simple swim philosophy – with leaving her in the hunt for a title.
"I don't have a best event, but the (200 IM) is definitely one of my stronger ones," she said. "You need four different strokes to be good, and my approach is just to get out front and stay there. I just wanted the chance to compete, and I did. It was awesome."
While Williams and Shipps stood out as individuals, Seaholm coach Karl Hodgson said his swimmers don't necessarily turn heads individually, but compete as well as any athlete. Seaholm won the 200 free (1:36.15) and 400 free relays (3:31.84), but garnered no individual winners. The same actually happened for last year's Maples championship team. Seaholm finished with 309 points on Saturday to 263 for runner-up Rochester Adams. Grand Rapids Northview was third with 174.
"We have numbers and talent," Hodgson said. "We have been fortunate to have a lot of talented kids. We knew we would be in the hunt. We had a lot of our team back, so we definitely knew we'd be in the hunt. The strength to our team is relay, and depth."
Seaholm's roster Saturday included eight seniors from a team of 56 swimmers. Hodgson said a season which included two stoppages, week-to-week workouts and virtual meetings was difficult, particularly at the end.
"I'll be honest, some girls didn't want to do this," he said. "They had already moved on, so this was tough."
Williams wasn't the only Portage Northern swimmer to win a title as junior Angelina Baker won the 500 free (4:57.15).
Other winners included Grace Albrecht of Jenison, who won the 50 free (23.90), Fenton's Gracie Olsen in the 100 butterfly (55.18) and Abby Forbes of Grand Rapids Northview, who won the 100 backstroke (56.15).
Albrecht, just a freshman, went from success in the USA swim program "JAWS" a year ago to her title.
"Obviously it was difficult," she said. "You just try to motivate yourself as much as you can. I just tried to beat my best time and not look at placing."
Unlike Williams and Albrecht, who were making their Finals debuts, Olsen had won three individual events in her first two trips as a freshman and sophomore.
"Each year is as fun as the year before," she said. "Experience helps. You recognize what is around you and what to expect. There is still pressure, but you get used to it."
Forbes, a conference winner in the 100 backstroke and 200 IM, said her personal expectations have grown each season.
"As a freshman you're just swimming to get a personal best. But I have confidence in myself and I wanted to finish first or second," she said. "This was just awesome. I set some goals and I had confidence I could make them."
Division 2 champions also included Rochester Adams in the 200 medley relay (1:45.65). Lily Witte, a sophomore from Dexter, repeated as the diving champion with 486.95 points – an LPD2 Finals record.
PHOTOS: (Top) Birmingham Seaholm's Samantha Clifford, top, swims toward one of her four top-three individual or relay finishes at Saturday's Division 2 Finals. (Middle) St. Joseph's Sylvia Park swims her leg of the 200 medley relay. (Click to see 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.)