GRAND RAPIDS – There may not be a heated competition between sisters, but that's definitely not the case for opponents of Grace and Emma Albrecht.
The speedy Jenison siblings went head-to-head in two events in addition to swimming together on two winning relays at Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals at Calvin University's Venema Aquatic Center.
"We push each other," said Grace, a junior. "But it's the same as with any other swimmer – we want to win."
The two were critical in helping Jenison finish runner-up behind East Grand Rapids with 219 points. The Pioneers notched their 24th Finals title with 280.
The sisters had a memorable afternoon as Grace edged her younger sister, a freshman, in the 50 freestyle. Grace won the event with a time of 23:41, while Emma was second at 23.82. Grace also was second in the 100 backstroke (54.50), while Emma was seventh (57.46). The two were part of the winning 200 medley (1:43.59) and 400 free relays (3:27.18).
When pressed, Grace will admit she looks at her sister more as a sibling rather than someone she needs to beat.
"Sometimes, once in a while," she said. "But most of the time we're competing against each other."
The sisters began their swimming background at virtually the same time at the club level about seven years ago. Emma said for the most part she looks at her older sister as a competitor, not a sibling.
"She's like any other swimmer," she said. "But we work together as teammates. She taught me always to have a positive attitude, no matter what."
The Pioneers continued their domination of Division 3/Class B Finals. Saturday's title was the team’s sixth in seven years, eighth since 2013 and 14th in 24 years. The program won its first title under coach Butch Briggs in the third year of Swim Finals in 1978 after finishing runner-up at the first two championship meets.
Briggs said the success never gets old. Different maybe, he said, but his swimmers never take anything for granted.
"Coming into the meet we were relatively beyond our seed times. But we found a way to win," said Briggs, who credits depth for the victory. "It's the way we've been all year with the depth. We have a little less than some teams, but Friday was one of our best days I can remember. We were up like 14 points without diving, and diving has saved (us) more than once over the years."
EGR senior Allison Alguire agreed that depth is a team strength, but so is another factor.
"We have a lot of perseverance," said Alguire, one of the team's co-captains who swam personal bests in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke while helping the 200 medley and 400 relays to second and third-place finishes, respectively. "We got close at the end of the year, which made our chemistry better. With our team we don't swim for a best time, we swim for the team."
EGR had only one first place, in the 200 free relay with Caroline Flermoen, Ellery Chandler, Alyssa Hein and Kate Simon.
The top individual performance in the meet came from Dexter senior Lily Witte, who won her fourth-straight diving title with a 554.65, as Caroline Li of Okemos (492.25) finished runner-up for the fourth year. Witte’s score was a Michigan all-Finals and pool record.
"It gets more special," said Witte, who will attend Indiana next season. "The fact that it’s my senior year and last year makes it special. I just try to go out and do what I need to do and try not to worry."
The meet's only double winner was Jenison's Sophie Umstead. She won the 200 individual medley (2:00.33) and the 100 breaststroke (1:01.11). She made a smashing transition from being a club swimmer a year ago as a freshman to becoming a two-event Finals champ.
"I just wanted to come in and swim my best," she said. "Club is similar to high school, but maybe a little more chilled."
Other first places were collected by two Birmingham Seaholm swimmers, Kelley Hassett in the 500 free (4:58.63) and Samantha Clifford in the 200 free (1:48.64). Rhian Russell of Rochester Adams in the 100 butterfly (54.30), Lily Cleason of Ann Arbor Skyline in the 100 backstroke (53.95) and Ella Roberson of Midland Dow in the 100 free (50.13) also won titles.
PHOTO (Top) An East Grand Rapids swimmer leaves the blocks during the 400 freestyle relay. (Middle) Swimmers approach the wall during the breaststroke final. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.)