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 [email protected] 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.)
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.)