By Jon Malavolti
Special to Second Half
ROCHESTER – Holland High girls swimming and diving coach Don Kimble said his squad talked about it all year.
“The second one is harder than the first one,” he said. “The second one, you’ve got a target on your back. Everybody’s looking for you. You sort of swim a little tight – you don’t want to be the one that loses it.”
On top of all that pressure, the Dutch had some other challenges they didn’t have last year while winning their first Lower Peninsula Division 2 title. Last year, Holland lifted the trophy at the nearby Holland Aquatic Center. This year, the Dutch would had to traverse across the state to Oakland University a few hours east, and face some new teams like Ann Arbor Skyline and East Grand Rapids that moved into Division 2 after competing in Division 1 or 3 in 2011.
But Holland wasn’t fazed by any of it, defending its title in convincing fashion.
The Dutch receive a Second Half High 5 this week after winning their second straight MHSAA championship. Prior to last season, they finished runner-up three straight seasons.
This time, they dominated the relays – taking first in all three, while also finishing first in four individual races. Holland grabbed crucial points with a second-place finish and three third-place finishes in the individual events, while its depth rounded things out on the day with nine finishes between ninth and16th.
Holland sophomore Taylor Garcia epitomized the team’s toughness, finishing first in all four races she swam – the 100-yard butterfly, 100 backstroke, 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay – all while dealing with a broken thumb.
“I think it affected my butterfly turns a little bit, and also I was a little tentative on my finishes,” she said. “I’m glad I just got to swim and didn’t need surgery or anything”.
Kimble was impressed with her performance despite the setback that has hampered her the past few weeks.
“She hasn’t been able to train all out,” he said. “To go the times she did today … it’s remarkable.”
Garcia wasn’t the only member of the Dutch proving her resolve on Saturday.
Junior Holly Morren won the 100 freestyle and finished second in the 50 free, while also helping the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams finish first.
Kimble noted how vastly she improved her performance from the preliminaries the day before.
“Holly came back with a vengeance,” he said Saturday. “She was really disappointed where she ended up yesterday, but made the effort today to step up.”
The third Holland team member to take home an individual title is another reason why the Dutch should be favored to three-peat. Cassie Misiewicz, a junior, will look to defend her 500 freestyle title next year, as well as improve on her third-place finish in the 200 free. She also swam on the first-place 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams.
In fact, the Dutch will graduate just one senior who scored points at this year’s Finals – Melissa Vandermeulen, who capped off her career nicely with a pair of third-place finishes in the 500 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, while also swimming on the first-place 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays.
Surely there will be more challenges that pop up in the way of Holland’s title run next year.
But no one should believe the Dutch won’t figure out a way to get it done, again.
PHOTO: Holland swimmer Abi Johns gives a thumbs up after one of her events during Saturday's Division 2 Finals at Oakland University. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)