By Ryan Stieg
Special for Second Half
MARQUETTE – Sometimes just one event can make the difference between a happy experience and a devastating one.
And that’s what happened at the girls Upper Peninsula Swimming & Diving Finals on Saturday.
Heading into the final event, Houghton led Marquette by just one point, and a tension-filled atmosphere filled the pool deck at Marquette Senior High School. Gremlins head coach Erik Johnson had an intense look on his face as he wondered if his team would grasp its first championship since 2014.
In the end, Johnson ended up pumping his fist in excitement and hugging his assistants as the Gremlins won the 400-yard freestyle relay and the team title, finishing ahead of the Redettes.
“We knew we had to do well in that last race to finish in front of Marquette and the girls took care of business,” Johnson said. “That relay has been a point of emphasis for us all year and to finish it off is something special.”
“There were a lot of emotions coming out and I don’t have much of a voice left, but this is a great feeling.”
In addition to the big relay win, Houghton also took first in two individual events as Samantha Olson won the 200 free and Tessa Meyer won the 100 butterfly.
Marquette head coach Nathan McFarren said it came down to depth, and that Houghton just had a little more of it this year.
“We had some pretty outstanding swims today,” he said. “I told the girls that we aren’t going to get second place every year, and that we’ll continue to grow. I think we knocked it out of the park today on both the boys and girls side, but I have to give credit to Erik though. They just gave us more than we could handle.”
The Redettes won the other two relays, the 200 medley and the 200 free. They also had two individual champions as Taryn Aho won both the 200 individual medley and the 500 free, while Jayme Winn took first in the 100 freestyle.
Gladstone, who won the meet last year, took third this year with 224 points, while Rudyard took fourth with 146. The Braves won one event as Sydney Herioux finished first in the 100 breaststroke, while Rudyard won two. Trista MacDowell took first in both the 50 free and 100 backstroke.
Braves head coach Tom Desy said his team lacked the depth of last year’s championship squad, but he was pleased with how his team performed.
“I thought the girls did pretty well,” he said. “We had some sickness come through our team the last couple of weeks, but the ones who were able to show up have done a great job. They had some self-doubt coming in, but they did well and I’m proud of them. We were just a little shorthanded.”
Westwood ended up in ninth place, but the Patriots did have one individual champion as Bethany Laasko won the 1-meter diving competition Friday night.
PHOTOS: (Top) A Houghton swimmer races during Saturday's Upper Peninsula Finals. (Middle) Swimmers launch during an event at Marquette High School. (Click to see more from Jarvinen Photos.)
HOLLAND – Farmington Hills Mercy donned maroon Nike dunk low tennis shoes at the conclusion of Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 2 Girls Swimming & Diving Finals.
It seemed rather appropriate as the Marlins’ effort was an absolute slam dunk.
Mercy captured its first Finals since 2019 at the Holland Aquatic Center, and did so in dominating fashion, winning by more than 125 points.
The Marlins scored a whopping 326, while runner-up Birmingham Seaholm finished with 198. Grand Rapids Northview (172) and Ann Arbor Skyline (164) rounded out the top four.
“I don’t know if I thought it would be as dominating a performance as it was,” Mercy coach Mike Venos said. “We always kind of gear up for Friday and leave it all in the pool and kind of hang on on Saturday, but they stepped it up again today.
“In the 40 years I've been coaching, I don’t know if we've had a team that has swam as well on Saturday as we did this year. We brought 19 girls here, and it was truly a team effort.”
The 2022 champion, East Grand Rapids, moved to Division 3 this season, making way for a new champion to be crowned.
The Marlins were led by senior Amylia Higgins, who swam to victories in the 50-yard freestyle (23.57) and 100 freestyle (50.84).
“It’s been amazing competing with these girls the past two days, but it's never been about winning for us,” Higgins said. “Personally, my goal going into this meet was to savor the last few moments of wearing a Mercy cap and representing this team.
“We all swam for each other and the team is what powers us. Swimming for the team is what got us here.”
Mercy, which won the 200 freestyle relay as well, used its depth and talent to overwhelm the field.
“We worked really hard all season to make sure everyone was in a good mindset coming into this meet,” senior captain Elena Garza said. “The fact that we are all able to come together and do this as a team was really important. We couldn't have done it without each other and the support system we’ve built.”
Seaholm posted its best finish since winning three consecutive Division 2 Finals from 2019-2021.
“Today we were kind of flat, and we were phenomenal yesterday (Friday),” Seaholm coach Karl Hodgson said. “It was one of the best preliminaries I can remember. It was a special day, but I knew today would be difficult because Mercy has such good swimmers and an all-around team. They had swimmers everywhere, and we had holes.”
After the slow start, Seaholm gained momentum with a win by senior Kelley Hassett in the 500 freestyle.
She also was the 500 freestyle champion last year.
“It was my goal to win the 500, and I’m so proud of my team because we’ve come so far this year,” said Hassett, who also anchored the winning 400 freestyle relay. “Getting second is a huge deal to us.”
Fenton junior Tess Heavner claimed a pair of championships in the 200 IM (2:03.69) and 100 backstroke (55.86).
“I came in knowing I was seeded first in both of my events, so I was really excited to come out and race and see what I could do,” Heavner said. “I’m happy with how I swam, and it felt really good to get state titles in both events. I really like those events, and they are my better events.”
Byron Center senior Brooklyn Beauch ended a stellar career with a victory in the 100 butterfly (54.68), while Ann Arbor Skyline freshman Adrienne Schadler clocked a 1:49.88 to win the 200 freestyle. Farmington senior Mackenzie Bush earned the win in the 100 breaststroke (1:03.60), and Bella Emery of Holt won the diving state title with a score of 383.65.
(Action photos by High School Sports Scene.)