By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Those who follow high schools swimming & diving closely can appreciate even more what Rockford accomplished this fall.
Over the previous 40 Lower Peninsula Division 1 or Class A Finals in the sport, 37 had been won by teams from the southeast region of the state that traditionally draw from powerful feeder programs in the Ann Arbor (Club Wolverine) and Oakland County (Oakland Live Y’ers) areas.
Rockford – the Applebee’s Team of the Month for November – this fall joined Holland West Ottawa in 2012 and the Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central teams of 1993 and 1994 in breaking that hold on the MHSAA’s largest-schools championship.
The Rams edged eight-time title-winner Farmington Hills Mercy 249-239 to take the top spot Nov. 19 at Oakland University.
“We just have so much respect for what they’ve built,” said Rockford coach Tom Parks of the southeast Michigan powers. “It just seemed to me a long time ago, how is anybody going to upset that balance?
“We’ve had depth for a long time, and I think we could’ve done well against those teams in a dual meet. But at the state meet, it’s only the top-end kids. We’ve always had one or two top-end kids, but this year we had three very legit All-American kids and a diver who did extremely well, and a bunch of other kids that just filled in spots really well and made our relays strong.”
Senior Sydney McDowell was the team’s lone individual champion at the Division 1 meet, finishing first in the 100-yard breaststroke in 1:01.94 – the fourth-fastest time in the event in MHSAA Finals history.
McDowell teamed with seniors Hunter Ignasiak and Meegan Snyman and junior Peyton Rayburn to win the 200 freestyle relay in 1:34.37 – a full second faster than their preliminary time from the day before and two seconds faster than their seed time in the event. Their time also was the fourth-fastest in MHSAA Finals history, all divisions and classes combined, and set an LP Division 1 Finals record. (Girls swimming & diving switched to divisions from classes in 2002.)
As a team, Rockford broke nine school swim records and both diving records this fall. McDowell’s breaststroke time qualified for All-America honors automatically from the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association, and she also set the Rams' record with a 2:04.36 in the 200 individual medley, finishing fifth in that event at the MHSAA Final. Rayburn earned All-America with her Finals runner-up time of 50.19 seconds in the 100 freestyle (10th-fastest in Finals history) and also set a school record of 1:49.88 in finishing third in the 200 freestyle. Sophomore Morgan Kraus earned All-America honors with both her third-place finish in the backstroke (55.42) and her best time this season in the butterfly (54.40); she finished runner-up in the latter race at Oakland.
Freshman Masy Folcik swam a 1:04.36 in the breaststroke prelim to earn All-America consideration and went on to finish seventh in that event, and sophomore diver Elise Jendritz earned the same consideration with her top 11-dive score this season (a school-record 460.75) and went on to finish seventh at Oakland as well.
In addition to those individual standouts, the 200 freestyle relay earned All-America honors, as did the 400 freestyle relay of Ignasiak, Kraus, senior Sara Fredricks and Rayburn (second at the Final in 3:26.55) and the 200 medley relay of senior Kallen Wolfer, McDowell, Kraus and Snyman (fourth at the Final, with a prelim time 1:45.25). The 400 relay time was the ninth-fastest in Finals history.
“We knew the 500 and the backstroke, we knew that’s where Mercy was going to hurt us. Scoring out from the prelims, we were about 12 points down from being able to tie them (at that point), and we had a conversation about that,” Parks said. “We gained some, we lost some … but if we did get to that point, (we told our girls) if we want a shot at this we have to win the 200 free relay. … They swam out of their heads … and then the momentum just changed. Our backstroker went nuts, our two breaststrokers did well, and our 400 relay – we considered that our weak relay all year of the three, and their 3:31 (in the prelims) was the fastest we’ve ever been – and they dropped five seconds from the prelims to the Finals."
Parks, who took over the program in 2000 and also previously coached the Rockford boys, will graduate four seniors who set individual school records or were part of record-setting relays this fall. But he thinks this year’s momentum combined with improvement from his community’s age group program as well could lead to more title contention to come.
Leading to this fall’s championship, Rockford improved this decade from 14th in 2011, to sixth in 2012, fifth in 2013 and third in 2014 before dropping back only slightly to fourth in 2015.
“Knowing the ins and outs of our sport,” Parks said, “it was such an accomplishment, what we were able to do.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Rockford’s Sydney McDowell swims the breaststroke during the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final last month. (Middle) The Rams pose with their first MHSAA team championship trophy in the sport. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
The addition of two games to basketball regular-season schedules and a new series of wrestling weight classes are likely the most noticeable Winter 2022-23 changes as an estimated 65,000 athletes statewide take part in 13 sports for which the Michigan High School Athletic Association sponsors postseason tournaments.
Girls gymnastics and boys ice hockey teams were able to begin practice Oct. 31, with the rest of those sports beginning in November – including also girls and boys basketball, girls and boys bowling, girls competitive cheer, girls and boys skiing, Upper Peninsula girls and boys and Lower Peninsula boys swimming & diving, and girls and boys wrestling.
A variety of changes are in effect for winter sports this season, including a several that will be noteworthy and noticeable to teams and spectators alike.
Basketball remains the most-participated winter sport for MHSAA member schools with 33,000 athletes taking part last season, and for the first time, basketball teams may play up to 22 regular-season games. This increase from the previous 20-game schedule allows more games for teams at every high school level – varsity, junior varsity and freshman.
Another significant change has been made in wrestling, as the majority of boys wrestling weight classes have been adjusted for this season in anticipation of a national change coming in 2023-24. The updated boys weight classes are 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 144, 150, 157, 165, 175, 190, 215 and 285 pounds. Only 215 and 285 remain from the previous lineup. There is also one change to girls weight classes, with the 255 class replaced by 235 to also align with national high school standards.
A series of notable changes will affect how competition takes place at the MHSAA Tournament levels. In hockey, in addition to a new classification process that spread cooperative and single-school programs evenly throughout the three playoff divisions, the MHSAA Tournament will employ two changes. The Michigan Power Ratings (MPR) will be used to seed the entire Regional round, not just the top two teams, and prior to the start of Semifinals, a seeding committee will reseed the remaining four teams in each division with the top seed in each then facing the No. 4 seed, and the No. 2 seed facing No. 3.
Bowling also will see an MHSAA Tournament change, as the Team Regional format will mirror the long-standing Team Final with teams playing eight Baker games and two regular games at both levels. And as also applied during the fall girls season, there is a new qualification process for divers seeking to advance to Lower Peninsula Boys Swimming & Diving Finals. In each of the three divisions, each Regional will be guaranteed 10 qualifiers for the Finals, with six more “floating” qualifier entries to be distributed to the Regionals that have one of the previous year’s top six returning Finals divers in their fields. If a team changes division from the previous season, any floating top-six spots are added to the six already allowed in the school’s new division.
A gymnastics rules change provides an opportunity for additional scoring during the floor exercise. A dance passage requirement was added in place of the former dance series requirement to encourage creativity and a more artistic use of dance. The dance passage requires gymnasts to include two Group 1 elements – one a leap with legs in cross or side split position, the other a superior element.
In competitive cheer, the penalty for going over the time limit in each round was adjusted to one penalty point for every second over the time limit, not to exceed 15 points. The new time limit rule is more lenient than the past penalty, which subtracted points based on ranges of time over the limit.
The 2022-23 Winter campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Swimming & Diving Finals on Feb. 18 and wraps up with the Boys Basketball Finals on March 25. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:
Districts – March 6, 8, 10
Regionals – March 13, 15
Quarterfinals – March 21
Semifinals – March 23-24
Finals – March 25
Districts – Feb. 27, March 1, 3
Regionals – March 7, 9
Quarterfinals – March 14
Semifinals – March 16-17
Finals – March 18
Regionals – Feb. 24-25
Finals – March 3-4
District – Feb. 17-18
Regionals – Feb. 25
Finals – March 2-3
Regionals – March 4
Finals – March 10-11
Regionals – Feb. 20-March 1
Quarterfinals – March 4
Semifinals – March 9-10
Finals – March 11
Regionals – Feb. 13-17
Finals – Feb. 27
Swimming & Diving
Upper Peninsula Girls/Boys Finals – Feb. 18
Lower Peninsula Boys Diving Regionals – March 2
Lower Peninsula Boys Finals – March 10-11
Wrestling – Team
Districts – Feb. 8-9
Regionals – Feb. 15
Finals – Feb. 24-25
Wrestling – Individual
Districts – Feb. 11
Regionals – Feb. 18
Finals – March 3-4
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year.