Preview: 1st-Time Contenders, Familiar Favorites Seek History-Making Finishes

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

November 17, 2022

In a sport often dominated by powerhouse programs, we could see new contenders emerge during this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Girls Swimming & Diving Finals.

True, Ann Arbor Pioneer looks tough to beat as it seeks a third-straight championship in Division 1. But even with Birmingham Seaholm pursuing a fourth-straight title in Division 2, it appears Jenison is the team to chase at Calvin University as the Wildcats seek their first Finals team victory in this sport.

In Division 3, the top-two ranked teams have won before – but neither this century. Holland Christian and Milan lead those with championship aspirations.

Competition begins at noon for Friday’s preliminaries and Saturday’s championships. Friday’s action will begin with swimming, with divers taking the pool approximately 3:30 p.m. at all three sites.

A spectator limit of two tickets per Finals qualifier will be in place in Division 2, but all three Finals will be streamed live on both days. Click for information on purchasing tickets, plus schedules and qualifiers for all three meets.

Lower Peninsula Division 1 at Oakland University

Reigning champion: Ann Arbor Pioneer
2021 runner-up: Saline
2022 top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 2. Northville, 3. Farmington Hills Mercy

Pioneer has won the last two LPD1 championships, last season with 405.5 points and a 158.5-point margin over the rest of the field. It’s tough to imagine that streak not growing as the Pioneers enter this weekend with 16 swim entries seeded to score (among the top 16) with eight top seeds – including favorites in all three relays – and two competing divers. Northville finished fifth a year ago and is seeking its first team championship in this sport, entering this weekend with 13 swim entries seeded to score and two divers as well. Mercy was seventh last season but champion three straight from 2017-19, and enters with 10 swim entries seeded to score.

Stella Chapman, Ann Arbor Pioneer junior: The top seed in the 200-yard individual medley (2:04.13) and 100 backstroke (56.07) will be looking to add to individual titles won in the backstroke as a freshman and IM as a sophomore. She’s also swam on four relay champions and is part of two top-seeded relays this weekend.

Elizabeth Eichbrecht, West Bloomfield freshman: She’s burst onto the scene this fall and provided plenty of anticipation as she enters her first MHSAA Finals with top seeds in the 200 freestyle (1:48.87) and 500 freestyle (4:54.65).

Lucy Mehraban, Ann Arbor Pioneer senior: After swimming on two championship relays as a freshman, Mehraban could close her high school career with a few more titles as she’s set to swim on two top-seeded relays and enters with top seeds in the 50 freestyle (23.04) and 100 freestyle (50.31).

Emily Roden, Northville senior: She won the 100 butterfly as a freshman and was second in that race and the IM last season. She enters this weekend with the top seed in the butterfly (55.17) and fourth seed in the 200 freestyle (1:51.86).

Victoria Schreiber, Brighton senior: She’s the fourth seed in the 500 freestyle (5:01.22) and fifth seed in the 200 (1:51.94) after winning the 500 and finishing fourth in the 200 in 2021.

McKenzie Siroky, Livonia Stevenson senior: She’ll chase the all-Finals record of 1:00.48 she set in the 100 breaststroke last season with a top-seed time this weekend of 1:00.77, and she’ll also swim the 50 seeded third (23.49).

Rosalee Springer, Grand Haven junior: The reigning 100 freestyle champion is seeded fourth in that race (51.46) and sixth in the IM (2:10.07).

Ann Arbor Pioneer 200 medley relay: Chapman is likely to be joined by sophomore Ursula Ott, senior Sophia Guo and freshman Kate Van Ryn as they pursue the LPD1 Finals record of 1:42.40. Pioneer has a seed time of 1:43.52.

Alice English, Saline senior: After finishing second at last year’s Final, less than 19 points off the lead, English will pursue her first championship coming off the highest Regional score (426.90) in Division 1.

Lower Peninsula Division 2 at Calvin University

Reigning champion: Birmingham Seaholm
2021 runner-up: Grosse Pointe South
2022 top-ranked: 1. Jenison, 2. East Grand Rapids, 3. Grosse Pointe South

Seaholm is seeking to become the sixth Lower Peninsula girls swimming & diving program to win a fourth-straight Finals championship, but this one might be the toughest to earn as the Maples enter ranked No. 6 – although they will bring 10 swim entries seeded to score and a competing diver. Jenison is seeking its first team championship after finishing sixth a year ago and enters with an impressive lineup including six top seeds, 10 more also seeded to score and four divers. East Grand Rapids is back in Division 2 after claiming three championships in Division 3 – and most recently winning Division 2 in 2017. The Pioneers have nine swim entries seeded to score and three divers competing. Grosse Pointe South finished runner-up last season for the second time in three years, and will make a run at its first team title this time with 14 swim entries seeded to score and a diver competing.

Grace Albrecht, Jenison junior: She’s won the 50 freestyle twice (including last season in a tie) and also was the 100 free runner-up last fall. She enters this weekend seeded first in the 50 (23.31) and second in the 100 backstroke (54.26) and also likely will swim on two top-seeded relays.

Lily Cleason, Ann Arbor Skyline senior: The reigning backstroke champion is seeded first in that race again (53:00) and second in the 200 freestyle (1:50.77) after finishing sixth a year ago.

Samantha Clifford, Birmingham Seaholm senior: She swam on her fourth and fifth champion relays last fall and also won her first individual title in the 100 free while finishing second in the 200. She’s seeded fourth in the 200 free (1:53.32) this weekend and second in the 100 (51.76).

Ella Roberson, Midland Dow senior: After finishing fourth in the 200 free and third in the 500 a year ago, Roberson is a favorite to win multiple individual titles entering the weekend seeded first in the 200 (1:49.56) and 100 free (49.82).

Rhian Russell, Rochester Adams senior: She’s seeded first in the 100 butterfly (54.95) by more than a second and fourth in the backstroke (56.41). She previously was part of Adams’ 200 medley championship relay in 2020.

Layla Umstead, Jenison freshman: She enters her first Finals with a top seed time in the 500 (4:58.81) and seventh seed in the IM (2:09.69), plus she’s expected to swim on two top-seeded relays.  

Sophia Umstead, Jenison sophomore: She’s also swimming in her first Finals and with an opportunity to make a historic impact with her top seed times in the IM (1:59.01) and 100 breaststroke (1:01.96) faster than the current Division 2 Finals records.

Jenison 200 medley relay: The expected combination of Albrecht, her freshman sister Emma and the Umstead sisters enters with a top seed time of 1:42.81, which is 1.8 seconds off the Division 2 record but would be the second-fastest time on the list.

Lily Witte, Dexter senior: She’s twice set the Division 2 Finals record for diving and won the event three times, with her 503.55 last season just under six points shy of the all-Finals record. She scored 513.35 to win her Regional by nearly 90 points.

Caroline Li, Okemos senior: Like Witte, she’s one of the nation’s top high school divers – but has finished second to Witte all of her first three seasons. She also won her Regional, with her 463.30 nearly 42 points better than the field.

Lower Peninsula Division 3 at Holland Aquatic Center

Reigning champion: East Grand Rapids
2021 runner-up: Bloomfield Hills Marian
2022 top-ranked: 1. Holland Christian, 2. Milan, 3. Bloomfield Hills Marian

With East Grand Rapids competing in Division 2 again, we’re guaranteed a new champion in Division 3 – and Holland Christian is hoping for its first team title since 1996, while Milan last won in 1977. The Maroons finished fourth a year ago and present a strong lineup this weekend with 13 swim entries seeded to score including two top seeds, plus four divers. Milan is right there with 13 swim entries seeded to score as well, one being a top seed, and two divers competing. Marian’s most recent championship was in Division 2 in 2014, and it will look to take that step again with 10 swim entries seeded to score and a diver this weekend.

Kiera Danitz, Ogemaw Heights senior: She has a chance to sprint to multiple championships as she enters with the top seed in the 50 free (24.15) and second seed in the 100 (53.41).

Ella Dziobak, Dearborn Divine Child freshman: She’ll enter her first Finals as the top seed in the 200 (1:52.99) and 500 (5:06.77) freestyles, both by at least three seconds.

Julijana Jelic, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood junior: After finishing fourth in both the IM and backstroke last season, Jelic is the top seed in the backstroke (59.60) and fifth in the IM (2:15.14).

Scarlet Maison, Standish-Sterling sophomore: She left her first Finals last season with a championship in the IM and 11th place in the backstroke, and she returns as the top seed in the IM (2:08.76) and second seed in the breaststroke (1:07.56).

Lauren McNamara, Flat Rock junior: The reigning champion in the butterfly is seeded first in that event (56.46), and second in the IM (2:11.46) after finishing sixth in that race last season.

Ella Schafer, St. Johns junior: She’s the top seed in the breaststroke (1:06.48) and ranked fifth in the 100 free (54.36), after finishing sixth in the 200 free and ninth in the breaststroke last season.

Laney Wolf, Wayland freshman: Another standout freshman, Wolf enters her first Finals seeded first in the 100 free (53.09) and fifth in the 50 (24.88).

Alicia Viaches, Haslett junior: Viaches posted the highest Regional score in Division 3 (367.75), more than 45 points higher than the rest of the competitors at her site.

Kaitlyn Molnar, Grosse Ile junior: She should build significantly on last year’s 10th-place Finals finish after winning her Regional by more than 60 points with a 366.10.

PHOTO: Dexter’s Lily Witte dives during last season’s LPD2 Finals; she won the diving competition for the third time. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.