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

3 Receive National Honors from NHSACA, Coaching Pair Named to Hall of Fame

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

July 11, 2024

One of the longest-serving members of the MHSAA Representative Council and two longtime Michigan high school coaches have received highest honors this summer from the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.

Brighton athletic director John Thompson was named Athletic Director of the Year during the NHSACA’s annual conference June 26 in Bismarck, N.D. He has supervised the Bulldogs’ highly-accomplished athletic program for two decades and served on the Representative Council the last 14 years, including currently as vice president.

Thompson also this year received the Thomas Rashid Athletic Director of the Year Award from the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA). Brighton was selected as an MIAAA exemplary athletic program in 2015 and as an ESPN unified champion school in 2018, the latter recognizing its statewide leadership in cultivating unified sport opportunities.

Additionally, Farmington Hills Mercy girls golf coach Vicky Kowalski and Livonia Stevenson girls swimming & diving coach Greg Phil were named NHSACA National Coach of the Year in their respective sports.

Kowalski completed her 46th season coaching Mercy last fall by leading the program to its second-straight Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship and fourth MHSAA Finals title overall. She also in January was named the 2022-23 National Coach of the Year in her sport by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association. She was inducted into the Michigan High School Coaches Association (MHSCA) Hall of Fame this year for both golf and bowling.

Phil has coached girls swimming & diving since 1976, including at Stevenson since 1985. After winning the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East title, the most recent of several league championships under his leadership, Stevenson finished 16th at last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals and previously had placed Finals runner-up twice. Phil was named to the MHSCA Hall of Fame in 2012.

All three honorees were nominated for the national recognition by the MHSCA. Beal City baseball coach Brad Antcliff, now-retired Leland volleyball coach Laurie Glass, Ann Arbor Greenhills boys tennis coach Eric Gajar and Lowell wrestling coach R.J. Boudro also were National Coach of the Year finalists.

Additionally, longtime softball coaches Kay Johnson of Morenci and Kris Hubbard from Ottawa Lake Whiteford were inducted into the NHSACA Hall of Fame. Johnson went over 1,000 career wins this spring and has led her program since 1993, including to Class C championships in 1985 and 1986. Hubbard retired after the 2019 season with an 865-380-3 record since taking over in 1974, with Class D titles in 1984, 1985 and 1987.