ROCHESTER — Ann Arbor Pioneer girls swimming coach Stefanie Kerska got her way in Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship meet.
The Pioneers won eight events in getting out to a big lead early, and on the way to winning their third-consecutive Finals championship.
Pioneer finished with 322 points, 104 more than second-place Northville.
"I like that a lot,” she said with a grin. "People think close ones are great, but not for the coaches. We worked really hard to establish a lead, and these girls earned it.”
It was the 19th overall title for Pioneer, one of Division 1’s premier programs, but it wasn’t a given going into the season, not after the Pioneers graduated an outstanding senior class after last season.
"I’m just so proud of this team in general,” Pioneer senior captain Sophia Guo said. "We had some big shoes to fill coming into this meet, and I think we really stepped up to the plate. I know me along with the other seniors were so happy this was the way we got to end our high school careers. I’m just so proud of us.
“We had to swim with our hearts today,” Guo continued. "We swam for each other, and I really think that made the difference.”
Among the difference-makers was Stella Chapman, who set a meet record in the backstroke and won the individual medley; Lucy Mehraban, who was on two winning relays, won the 50 freestyle and finished second to Guo in the 100 freestyle, and Kate Van Ryn, a freshman who was on three winning relays.
“To put a ninth-grader in with that kind of pressure was ... I would like to say a gamble. But it wasn’t,” Kerska said. "I knew her preparation was thorough, she was up to the challenge and she really came through for her team.”
Another freshman who made a big splash was West Bloomfield’s Elizabeth Eichbrecht, who won both the 200 and 500 freestyles.
Northville finished second for the second consecutive year. Among the team leaders was Emily Roden, who ended her career the same way she started it, winning the 100 butterfly.
"I really dialed in on my training, and I knew what I had to do,” Roden said. "I focused a lot more, focused out of the water, and enjoyed it more. We have a great team and I had a lot of fun, and it helped me this year.”
Saline senior Alice English won the diving competition after finishing second last year.
"My goal was constant improvement since my freshman year, so to get first was really nice,” she said, noting a slow start in Friday’s preliminaries. "Yesterday wasn’t my day, but I pulled it out today and I’m really happy with it.”
After accepting the championship trophy, the Pioneers joined hands and leaped into the diving pool together, followed closely by their coaches.
For Kerska, winning a third title in a row was anything but old hat.
"The pressure mounts a little bit each year to try and outdo the year before, but no, it never gets old,” she said. "These girls, from day 1, stepped up, took the reins and really took responsibility of the tradition that we have going here and never looked back.”
And, as a result, Guo and her fellow seniors finished their careers with three team state titles.
“It’s a great feeling,” she said. ‘We all worked so hard, and it really showed today."
PHOTOS (Top) Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Sophia Guo, right, embraces teammate Lucy Mehraban after their 100-yard freestyle race Saturday. (Middle) Saline’s Alice English dives on the way to winning that event after finishing second a year ago. (Below) Livonia Stevenson’s McKenzie Siroky swims to a repeat in the breaststroke. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
Kaylee Draper ♦ Sturgis
Junior ♦ Swimming
Draper joined teammates Kenzy Triezenberg, Ainsley Gump and Emma Garbine to swim the 200-yard medley relay in 1:55.53 on Sept. 7 against Hastings, breaking a school record from 1997. Draper also won the 50 freestyle with a Finals cut time of 25.47 seconds as Sturgis won the dual 92-69. Two days later, she swam on the winning 200 medley again and the 200 freestyle relay and was second in the 50 butterfly as the Trojans won the Mason Sprint Invitational.
She helped Sturgis finish 28th at last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals, placing eighth in the 100 backstroke and 14th in the 50 freestyle and swimming on the 15th-place 200 freestyle relay. She also runs cross country during the fall and is a pole vaulter and thrower on the track & field team.
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Past 2023-24 Honorees
(PHOTOS courtesy of the Sturgis Journal.)