When Kiera Danitz leaves the blocks during this weekend’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Swimming & Diving Championships, it will feel pretty familiar to her.
The Ogemaw Heights junior has already experienced qualifying and competing at the Finals twice.
But she will experience some unfamiliarity this time too. She won’t have her training partner and teammate of the past two seasons, Clair Hines, with her. However, Danitz is going into this Finals as the fastest swimmer the school and conference has ever produced in her two events, the 50 and 100-yard freestyles.
She didn’t reach the LPD3 championship heats the last two seasons, but is expected to do so this weekend – and contend for titles in both races. She enters as the top seed in the 50 and the second seed in the 100.
Long before this season, Danitz already was listed on the Falcons’ pool wall record boards with Hines in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays. With Hines moving on to swim for Aquinas College this year – she’s already set a Saints record – Danitz lost a training partner.
That didn’t slow her down, thankfully, according to her coach Louise Hofer.
“The two of them were very good friends and really good swimming partners, pushing each other,” Hofer said. “This is the first year that Kiera is without her, and she has had to step up her game a little bit and be more of the swimming leader on the team.
“She’s done a fantastic job in the water motivating the other girls to do the best they can.”
So far this fall, Danitz has broken records that stood for more than 20 years in both the 50 and 100. She also broke the Ogemaw Heights pool record in 50.
The school and conference 50 free records were set at the recent Independent Swim Conference championships – she won in 24.15 seconds. The conference 100 free record of 53:41 also was set during the two-day event held at Saginaw Valley State University. For her record-setting accomplishments, Danitz was named the ISC Swimmer of the Meet. Those are also her seed times for this weekend.
Swimming against the state’s best could bring out the best in Danitz, who started competing in the water in fourth grade when her mother suggested she give it a try.
“As a swimmer, she always does better when she’s in the hunt, when she’s a little bit behind,” Hofer pointed out. “If she’s got somebody that she can see their toes or she can see their shoulders or whatever, she is going to push herself much harder than if she is way out front.”
The lessons learned from the last two Finals should also bode well for the decorated junior.
“It was such a valuable learning experience for her,” Hofer said. “It has just bolstered her confidence.”
Regardless of how things go this weekend, Danitz already has plans to re-write the record books next year. She’s ready to do the work to improve on her own records and go after a couple more her senior year.
“I want to break the 200 IM record and maybe the 200 free records,” she said. “I am hoping for my 50 free to get a 23 (seconds) and I hope to get a 52 by the end of my senior year.”
Danitz’s success has been well supported by her teammates, and in fact may lead to other records being broken on both the boys and the girls teams.
Having recognizable names makes the records more attainable and provides motivation, the 21-year veteran coach Hofer believes.
“They’re very definitely paying attention to the new names going on the wall because these are kids that they know,” Hofer said. “You can see it in the kids’ eyes when they stand there and look at stuff.
“You can see the wheels spinning in their head,” she continued. “And they’re thinking, ‘OK … I know her… I know what (level) of work she put in … I can do it too.’”
Reese Engel and Alejandra Azcona are the other members of the school-record 200 relay team with Danitz and Hines. Jordan Nelson and Azcona join them on the wall for the 400 relay.
Hofer likes the idea of Danitz going after the 200 IM record. She had Danitz try that race a few times this year for a little variety.
“Kiera wants to improve upon those before she leaves,” Hofer said. “We dabbled with the 200.
“It was good for her to swim some other events and not be so laser-focused at every competition swimming the 50 and 100.”
Hofer is confident her stellar swimmer will do whatever it takes to meet those goals.
“Kiera is motivated, and she’s super competitive,” Hofer said. “She’s willing to do the work, and she knows what kind of work she needs to do.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Ogemaw Heights’ Kiera Danitz pops up from the water happy after touching the wall first during one of her races at the Independent Swim Conference championship meet. (Middle) Danitz and coach Louise Hofer stand over the broken 50 freestyle record board listings Danitz’s times will replace. (Top photo by Justin Kruskie Photography. Middle photo by Christine Rice.)
Lily Witte ♦ Dexter
Senior ♦ Swimming & Diving
The Dreadnaughts’ phenom capped her high school career with her fourth MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals championship, in the process obliterating the all-Finals record with a score of 554.65, more than 45 points higher than the previous mark. Witte had entered her final MHSAA meet having scored the second-highest score on the all-Finals list, 503.55, last year.
Witte won a junior national championship in 1-meter diving during the summer and has represented Team USA in multiple international competitions – and will be doing so this weekend in junior world championship competition in Montreal. In something of a rarity for elite divers, Witte also swam on two relays for Dexter at Saturday’s Finals, helping her team to a 10th-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle relay and 13th place in the 200 medley. She has signed to continue diving at Indiana University and intends to study computer science.
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