By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Morgan Bullock appreciates the opportunity she’d had to follow her older sister Jordan through the ranks of elite swimming.
She watched the last four years as Jordan piled up five individual school records and a number of all-state finishes, and took note how hard her sister worked. It made Morgan want to train just as much so she too could do her best.
Then, in Bullock's first high school meet on the first night of this season, Morgan broke two of Jordan’s records. And she would’ve broken the news to her older sister, if someone else hadn’t gotten to Jordan first.
After all, it was a little bittersweet for Morgan – but probably not entirely unexpected given her incredible talent and impressive performances before she even reached high school.
“My sister worked so hard to get all of hers, and I come in and I swim my hardest, and I get two of her records,” Bullock said. “She heard it from the grapevine, from somebody else, before I told her. But once I called her and told her, she said ‘Good job,’ and that she loves me. I think she kinda saw it coming.”
Those in the west Michigan swim scene have watched the Bullock sisters rise among their classmates for a while. Jordan was part of seven team records total and earned nine all-state selections before graduating this spring and joining the team at Bowling Green.
And now comes Morgan, a phenom like her sister but a few steps ahead – in part because of Jordan's guidance as the two were growing up.
Morgan receives a Second Half High 5 after winning the 200-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly at the Oct. 13 MISCA Meet at Eastern Michigan University. Both of her times – 1:51.97 in the 200 and 56.37 seconds in the butterfly – would’ve placed at last season's MHSAA Division 1 Final; her 200 time third and her butterfly time fifth, just behind Jordan’s finish. It was only the second time this season Bullock had swam the 200 – and the finish stunned her a little because she remembers watching close the times from Jordan's Finals race the season before.
“I expected to go 1:53 or something like that, but then I saw it on the board and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that felt really good,’” said Bullock, who attends Zeeland West (West and East compete together in swimming and diving).
Morgan’s opening-night broken records came in the 50 and 100-yard freestyles. Her school-record time in the 50 is 24.18 seconds, and her 100 time is 52.78. Her butterfly time already qualifies for All-America recognition, and she’s swam the backstroke in 59.28, the 500 freestyle in 5:11 and the 200 individual medley in 2:11.9.
That backstroke time would’ve placed her 11th in Division 1 last season, her 50 free time eighth, her 100 free time sixth, and her 500 and 200 IM times both 15th.
Jordan may be gone, and she and Morgan different in ways. But no doubt, others have made and will continue to make comparisons now the younger has replaced the older on Zeeland's team.
“She’s watched and modeled her sister the last four years, … and she’s gotten into it a little bit quicker than her sister did,” Zeeland coach Mike Torrey said. “She’s got a great feel for the water, great position, a great kick. They’re both the same height and very strong.”
The Bullock sisters were taking swim lessons as kids at a nearby pool when their grandmother noticed a story about an area swimmer in the newspaper and suggested to their mother than the girls make that their sport. So they gave it a try, Jordan first and then Morgan joining her when the latter was 7. At 9, Morgan got serious about the sport.
The sisters combined for some outstanding finishes at this summer’s Michigan Swimming Open Long Course State Championships at Calvin College, which included competitors up to 19 years old. After winning four events and placing second in a fifth at the 14-and-under event, Bullock took third in the butterfly, seventh in the 100 freestyle, 14th in the 50 freestyle and swam on three relays that finished among the top six. Jordan swam on two of those relays as well and took eighth in the 100 and 200 butterfly races (five spots behind her sister in the 100).
Morgan’s favorite stroke is the butterfly, but she wouldn’t be this far along with Jordan. When she was younger, Morgan hated the butterfly. But Torrey suggested Jordan teach it to her little sister, and so she did – including how to keep her legs straight and the proper form to kick.
Morgan thinks the individual medley team record might be her next to take. Morgan’s time is only about a second off Jordan’s all-time team best. Morgan also is about a second off the team’s backstroke record.
Unlike last time, when those records fall, Morgan might get the chance to be the first to let her sister know. And with Morgan already an MHSAA title contender, there should be plenty of highlights to mention over the next four years.
Not that the two discuss swimming much these days when they get a chance to catch up. They might talk for a minute about their last meets, but “we don’t talk about it for fun,” Morgan said.
But the time is soon coming when Bullock will have a chance to pass some of her sister's lessons and guidance forward.
She is happy to blend in among the underclassmen. But she could take on more of a leadership spot next fall, with a number of friends currently in eighth grade expected to join the team.
“I can help them, and they look up to me,” Bullock said. “I’ll be there for them, do anything for them.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Morgan Bullock swims the butterfly during a meet this summer. (Middle) Morgan Bullock, left, and her older sister Jordan, both own spots in the Zeeland record book. (Photos courtesy of the Bullock family.)
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.)