ROCHESTER – East Grand Rapids captured its seventh MHSAA Finals girls swimming & diving championship over the last eight seasons Saturday by totaling 420 points at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 meet at Oakland University.
The title was East Grand Rapids’ fifth in Division 3 since 2016, with the Pioneers also having added Division 2 victories in 2017 and 2022.
Winning seven of the 12 events Saturday, including all three relays, East Grand Rapids was led by junior Kate Simon, who was victorious in both the 100 and 200-yard freestyles and was a member of the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams, earning herself the Swimmer of the Meet honor from the Michigan Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association.
“It’s really cool, especially for East. We’re such a good team, and they always have a good team,” Simon said of the honor.
“It’s cool to do it under Butch, too.”
While the Pioneers had a couple of young athletes in freshman Addie Hein and sophomore Ellery Chandler play valuable roles Saturday, Simon pointed to the leadership of the Class of 2024 as a major reason why this team continued to thrive.
“I think the seniors and the captains have been really good leaders,” she began. “They’ve really brought our team together, and I think made this team such good friends.”
The “Butch” Simon referenced is legendary head coach Milton “Butch” Briggs, with Saturday’s triumph representing the latest accomplishment in a long line of success for one of the sport’s most accomplished program leaders.
Even with all of the winning the program has done under his watch, his 2023 Pioneers still found a way to make themselves special and stand out from some of his teams of years past.
“What makes this group special is we lost the first two meets of the year, and we hadn’t lost a dual meet in quite a few years,” Briggs shared. “So just to watch this group of girls come together, not only as athletes, but as friends and as people.
“We had a few of our age group coaches step up and help with the program this year, and it made us a lot more complete on depth. It was just fun to be around them; it was the best part of my day.”
Like Simon, Chandler was part of two relay teams for East Grand Rapids and tallied an individual victory in the 100 breaststroke with an All-American consolation qualifying time of 1:03.17.
Alongside Hein and Simon, Chandler is a member of the promising core the Pioneers figure to return in 2024 and she delivered a smiling, humble response when asked about her individual success.
“It feels good to have my hard work pay off and get to do it as a team,” Chandler said.
East Grand Rapids also took home first place in 1-meter diving, courtesy of senior Maria Colombo’s score of 441.4. Addy Buck, her Pioneers classmate, was right behind her in second place at 390.9.
Rounding out the top-five teams Saturday were Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood with 219 points, Bloomfield Hills Marian (214), Milan (163) and Holland Christian (145).
Freshman Camryn Siegers won the 100 backstroke for Holland Christian at 55.37 seconds, and Flat Rock senior Lauren McNamara touched the wall first in both the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley, posting times of 55.68 and 2:05.59, respectively.
PHOTOS (Top) East Grand Rapids launches during a relay exchange Saturday at Holland Aquatic Center. (Middle) Flat Rock's Lauren McNamara swims to the championship in the 200 individual medley. (Below) EGR's Ellery Chandler surges to the win in the 100 breaststroke. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.)