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.)
WEST BLOOMFIELD — When she started high school swimming last fall, West Bloomfield sophomore Elizabeth Eichbrecht didn’t know what expectations to have, given she knew full well the high level of competition there was throughout the state.
Well, after two seasons, it’s safe to say Eichbrecht has blown any expectations she had out of the water, pun intended.
At the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals on Nov. 17-18 at Eastern Michigan University, Eichbrecht won her third and fourth individual championships.
She won the 200-yard freestyle in a time of 1:48.08, more than three seconds ahead of the next finisher. The winning time qualified for All-America recognition and bested her first-place time from the 2022 Finals by 0.34 seconds.
Later on, Eichbrecht won the 500 freestyle in a time of 4:47.66, more than 11 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Her All-American time in that event was more than five seconds better than her winning time in 2022.
Two years, four Finals titles. Not too shabby.
“Yes it’s surprising, because there are so many fast girls and we are all very competitive,” Eichbrecht said.
Eichbrecht already holds six school records – in all four freestyle events, the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly.
She also owns Oakland Activities Association records in the 200 and 500 freestyles and the 100 butterfly.
“I like the distance events more, mainly because I don’t have to all-out sprint,” Eichbrecht said.
West Bloomfield head coach Ronson Webster said the big reason why Eichbrecht was even better this year as a sophomore after making such an impact as a freshman wasn’t necessarily because she was bigger and stronger, although those were contributing factors.
Mainly, her success this year was the validation that she belonged after such a great freshman season.
“She gained more confidence this year going into her races,” he said. “She focused on racing her race and not who was next to her. Meeting the time we worked for was the goal. Winning is a bonus.”
While Eichbrecht excels at so many events, her specialty has been the 200 and 500 freestyles, which is stating the obvious given the Finals titles she has won in those events.
“Her training is very specific as it is for every swimmer on our team,” Webster said. “Everyone is trained differently. Her technique is very important and specific to her event and body size. Since she is shorter, she can’t swim the same as a tall person. Having the right technique designed for the swimmer and the correct race plan goes a long way.”
Eichbrecht next will focus on her club season for Supernova Swim Team based out of Farmington Hills, and she already is looking forward to competing at the Winter Junior Nationals in Columbus from Dec. 6-9.
By the time her career is over, it’s safe to say Eichbrecht might be the best all-time from a West Bloomfield school that’s not known as much for swimming as other Oakland County powers such as Farmington Hills Mercy or the Birmingham schools. But Eichbrecht is relishing putting her school on the swimming map with all her success so far.
“I love swimming at WB,” she said. “My teammates are amazing, and they work super hard. I’m super proud of all the work they put in this season, and I can’t wait for next season.”
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTOS (Top) West Bloomfield’s Elizabeth Eichbrecht swims the winning 200-yard freestyle Nov. 18 at Eastern Michigan University. (Middle) Eichbrecht talks with runner-up Yan Yee Adler from Ann Arbor Pioneer after also winning the 500 freestyle. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)