By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half
ROCHESTER – Who says you can’t do any gardening in November?
It certainly worked for the Birmingham Seaholm girls swimming & diving team.
Last season with a relatively young group, Seaholm finished runner-up at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals, a result that stunned head coach Karl Hodgson in a good way and planted something special for 2019.
“That’s all we talked about from that point on,” Hodgson said. “Last year, we thought it was going to be a rebuilding year and it was kind of surprising we came in second. Right there, the seed was planted and they didn’t lose sight of that.”
That seed planted a year earlier turned into a championship trophy.
Seaholm captured its first Finals title since 2016, easily outdistancing the field with 304 points.
Grosse Pointe South was the closest pursuer, finishing runner-up with 222 points. Birmingham Groves was third with 198.
Seaholm entered the meet ranked No. 1, and lived up to that billing.
The Maples started the meet with a win, taking first in the 200-yard medley relay in a time of 1:45.83 with the team of sophomores Isabella Vaughan, Lauren Louwers, Katherine Stanley and Eliza Dixon.
Seaholm also won the 200 freestyle relay in a time of 1:36.34 behind Dixon, sophomore Samantha Clifford and juniors Chloe Blake and Megan Clifford.
Seaholm didn’t win any individual events, but showcased its depth by still accumulating plenty of points with high finishes.
“We’re a heavy sophomore team, and I think that one year as freshmen (at the state meet) to develop, that’s a big deal,” Hodgson said. “At this meet, some can be overwhelmed, so you tend to do better in the sophomore and junior years.”
With Seaholm reliant on so many sophomores, as Hodgson pointed out, it seems like the “D” word might be on the horizon for the Maples.
But Hodgson wanted to pump the brakes temporarily on any talk of a dynasty.
“These high school kids, you never know what they are going to do and what direction they are headed,” Hodgson said. “But I will tell you, the future does look good.”
There were three individual standouts who each won three events at the meet.
Midland Dow senior Claire Newman once again dominated the sprints, repeating in the 50 (22.95) and 100 freestyles (50.23).
Newman, who will swim at University of Michigan, said it wasn’t hard to maintain her drive and hunger despite winning those events last year because of how much passion the Finals generates.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs,” Newman said. “This is just a perfect way to end my last one. I’m really thankful, more so than anything. Of course, there’s joy. But more so I’m thankful.”
Farmington junior Madeline Greaves won the 200 individual medley (2:04.35) and 500 freestyle (5:00.13), while Fenton sophomore Gracie Olsen won the 200 freestyle (1:48.98) and 100 butterfly (54.62).
The other individual winners were Dexter freshman Lily Witte in diving with 468.40 points, Dexter junior Charlotte Schultz in the 100 backstroke with a time of 56.42, and St. Clair Shores Lakeview sophomore Elly Belmore in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:04.32.
PHOTOS: (Top) Lauren Louwers powers through one of her swims in helping Seaholm to the team title Saturday at Oakland University. (Click for 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.)