Pair Powers Cranbrook Team Title Hopes
November 10, 2020
By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half
BLOOMFIELD HILLS – The Oakland County girls swim & dive meet in October perfectly highlighted the luxury Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood enjoys this season.
Depth is always great for any team – but it’s also nice to have two swimmers capable of winning one-third of a meet’s events by themselves.
Cranbrook has that possibility each meet thanks to the presence of seniors Gwen Woodbury and Justine Murdock, who might be the best tandem on any team in the state this year, regardless of school size.
They also are future Big Ten college swimmers, with Woodbury heading to Ohio State and Murdock to Northwestern.
Needless to say, having a duo like that has made it a seamless transition for first-year Cranbrook coach Paul Ellis.
“It’s a great example for the rest of our team on what hard work and dedication to your craft can do,” Ellis said. “They go above and beyond day in and day out. It really sets the tone for our practices. It helps with the culture you want to establish.”
Woodbury is a freestyle whiz who captured the 100-yard (51.29) and 200-yard freestyles (1:37.96) at an Oakland County event that also featured Division 1 power Farmington Hills Mercy and Division 2 power Birmingham Seaholm.
Woodbury, also the reigning Division 3 Finals champion in the 100 freestyle, said she started swimming when she was 4 years old, although it wasn’t exactly love at first sight with the sport.
“I actually hated it,” she said. “I only went because my siblings swam.”
But as she grew older, Woodbury started to enjoy the sport more and discovered she was starting to get good at it.
By the time her freshman year at Cranbrook was over, which concluded with her winning the Finals titles in the 100 freestyle and 200 freestyle and Cranbrook winning the team title in Division 3, she realized swimming was something she wanted to do beyond high school.
“I started to realize that it’s not just the sport of swimming, it’s everything that comes with it and the little things people don’t notice that much that made me fall in love with it so much more,” Woodbury said. “The team camaraderie when we won states my freshman year was a feeling of total happiness knowing that all these people had worked so hard.”
Murdock is different than Woodbury in that she swims the backstroke and individual medley, but the same in that she took up the sport at an early age, and already has numerous county and state championship titles on her resume.
Murdock won the 200 IM (2:08.19) and the 100 backstroke (56.76) at this year’s county meet, the 100 backstroke at the Finals as a sophomore and both the 200 IM and 100 backstroke at last year’s Division 3 championship finale.
“I’ve always been swimming backstroke ever since I was little,” Murdock said. “I loved backstroke, so it was an easy choice for me to continue. In high school, while finding my other strengths through my freshman and sophomore years to see where I was clicking with secondary events, the 200 IM ended up being that event. It gives me time to have good focus throughout the meet lineup.”
Woodbury and Murdock, who are also important members of Cranbrook’s relay teams, have swam together since middle school and have been able to bond through their similar career paths in swimming.
Not only have they been able to push each other during practices and meets, but they’ve had each other as sounding boards on topics such as college visits and their future ambitions.
Both assuredly will follow how the other is doing in college once their high school days are over.
“It will be weird, but the great thing about being in the same conference is that we will be able to compete and be friends at the same time,” Murdock said.
Before worrying about college, there’s some unfinished business to take care of at Cranbrook.
After winning the Division 3 championship their freshman year, Cranbrook has been Finals runner-up to East Grand Rapids each of the past two.
Last year, Cranbrook finished just 11 points behind East Grand Rapids, and Woodbury and Murdock are focused on ending their careers celebrating another team title.
“That 11 points, all you could think about was, ‘What did I do wrong?” Woodbury said. ‘“If only I could have gone a second faster.’ Everyone was thinking that. We don’t want to feel that again.”
PHOTOS: Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood’s Gwen Woodbury launches into one of her races during the 2019 Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals at Oakland University. (Middle) Teammate Justine Murdock sets the pace on the way to winning the 200 IM at last year’s Finals. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Performance of the Week: Marquette's Grace Sobczak
February 24, 2023
Grace Sobczak ♦ Marquette
Junior ♦ Swimming
Marquette’s girls swimming & diving team won its second straight and fourth Upper Peninsula Finals championship in five seasons Saturday, and Sobczak led the charge with championships in the 200-yard individual medley (23.42 seconds) and 500 freestyle (5:35.02) and as part of the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays.
The individual championships were the third and fourth Finals titles of Sobczak’s career – she won the 500 for the third time in three tries – and the pair of relay wins raised her Finals count to four total in those races as well. The championship capped an undefeated season for the team. While swimming always has been her primary sport, Sobczak played a variety growing up and runs cross country in the fall.
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Feb. 16: Kaitlynn Demers, Gibraltar Carlson competitive cheer - Report
Feb. 9: Indya Davis, West Bloomfield basketball - Report
Feb. 2: Braydon Sorenson, Onekama skiing - Report
Jan. 26: Shayne Hruska, Iron Mountain wrestling - Report
Jan. 19: Kayla Tafanelli, Warren Woods-Tower bowling - Report
Dec. 20: Brenden Paden, Riverview Gabriel Richard hockey - Report
Dec. 16: Tuff Scott, Holton bowling - Report
Dec. 9: Macey Fegan, Standish-Sterling basketball - Report
Dec. 2: Treyton Siegert, Gladwin football - Report
Nov. 24: Lily Witte, Dexter diving - Report
Nov. 17: Navea Gauthier, Shelby volleyball - Report
Nov. 10: Derek Huisman, Holland Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3: Thomas Westphal, New Baltimore Anchor Bay cross country - Report
Oct. 27: Justin Wickey, Colon football - Report
Oct. 20: Owen DeMuth, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood tennis - Report
Oct. 13: Mia Melendez, Ann Arbor Greenhills golf - Report
Oct. 6: Shawn Foster, Grand Ledge football - Report
Sept. 30: Hannah Smith, Temperance Bedford swimming - Report
Sept. 22: Helen Sachs, Holland West Ottawa cross country - Report
Sept. 15: Nina Horning, Lake Orion volleyball - Report
Sept 8: Arturo Romero, Muskegon Oakridge soccer - Report
Sept. 1: Austin King, Midland Dow tennis - Report
Aug. 25: Olivia Hemmila, Troy Athens golf - Report
(Photos by Jonathan Young/Marquette High School.)