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.)
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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(Top photo by High School Sports Scene.)