By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half
ROCHESTER – Farmington Hills Mercy certainly perfected the notion during Saturday’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals that you don’t have to win events to become a swimming & diving champion.
The Marlins didn’t have an individual finish first in any event and had runner-up finishes in just two, but they still left Oakland University happier than anyone.
For the first time since 2013 and eighth time in school history, Mercy won an MHSAA Finals championship after collecting a meet-best 277 points, 29 ahead of runner-up Saline’s total of 248.
Farmington/Harrison was third with 192, Ann Arbor Skyline was fourth at 191 and Rockford rounded out the top five with 156.
“I tried to get them to believe that you can win a state meet without winning a single event,” Mercy head coach Mike Venos said. “We had the team that could do that. We knew Saline was going to run with their top-end kids. We just had to offset that with our depth.”
Depth indeed prevailed for Mercy, which had a finisher in the top 10 in 10 of the 12 events.
The best for the Marlins were a second-place finish in the 100-yard backstroke by senior Katie Minnich and a second-place finish by the 400 freestyle relay in the meet’s final race.
The Marlins also had two third-place finishers, two fourth-place finishers, a fifth and a sixth-place finish.
It was the first time guiding a girls team to an MHSAA title for Venos, the longtime head coach at Brother Rice who has led the Warriors to the last four championships in LP Division 1 and six overall.
Venos is in his second year as head coach at Mercy.
While his team ended a four-year title drought, Saline fell just short in an attempt to win its first title since 2014.
The Hornets saw their 200 medley relay win the title with a time of 1:43.60 and junior Maddie Luther win the 200 freestyle in 1:47.69, but Saline couldn’t win another event to further negate the depth Mercy showcased.
It was the fourth runner-up finish for Saline since 2011.
“They had more swimmers and everywhere you looked, they had somebody,” Saline head coach Todd Brunty said. “We just keep knocking on that door trying to stay relevant. Every year, we try to make sure we stay in the conversation.”
The individual star of the Finals was Farmington/Harrison junior Ashley Turak, who found herself at the top of the podium in all four events in which she competed.
Going into the day, it was a repeat scenario for Turak, who like last year was seeded second in both the 50 and 100 freestyles.
Instead of finishing second in the 50 and fourth in the 100 like she did last year, Turak was first in those events this time.
Turak won the 50 freestyle in a meet record time of 22.38, and then won the 100 freestyle with a time of 49.79.
Turak then served as the first leg of Farmington/Harrison’s team that won the 200 freestyle relay with a time of 1:34.67.
In the final event of the day, Turak swam the anchor leg for the 400 freestyle relay team that also finished first with a time of 3:26.35.
“The mood I had going in as a junior was that I had some college offers, so I wanted to prove to everyone I could do it,” Turak said. “I don’t know where I want to go yet.”
Turak will have the coming months to sort through what should be plenty of college offers while also being a member of Farmington Hills Harrison’s last graduating class.
Harrison is set to close its doors following the 2018-19 school year.
“I love representing my school,” Turak said. “I get great academics and it has great sports there. Our football is going to the state finals next week, so that amps me up too. It’s a great atmosphere.”
In addition to Turak’s performance in the 50 freestyle, there were other record-setting performances.
Grand Haven sophomore Kathryn Ackerman set a meet record in the 200 individual medley, winning with a time of 1:57.92.
Rockford junior Morgan Kraus set a meet record with a time of 53.73 in winning the 100 butterfly. Grand Ledge sophomore Lola Mull set a meet record in the 500 with a time of 4:47.32.
PHOTOS: (Top) A pair of Farmington Hills Mercy swimmers dominate an awards podium in helping the Mustangs win the team title Saturday. (Middle) Brighton celebrates a relay runner-up finish. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
MARQUETTE – Thanks to the informative meet announcer, the Upper Peninsula Swimming & Diving Finals crowd gets to learn a little bit about each participant – from basic facts like who their parents are to why they like the upcoming race.
In the sprints, that can generate some predictable answers, like the many athletes who pointed out they like that event because it’s one of the shorter races.
Before the grueling 500-yard freestyle event, Marquette senior Grace Sobczak and freshman Olive Krueger brought a little levity and originality, both saying it was because they get to beat the other one.
That, however, is easier said than done for anybody.
Sobczak finished her high school career Saturday a perfect 4-for-4 in the event, and she also repeated as the 200-yard individual medley champion and was part of winning 200 and 400 free relay teams at Marquette Senior High School.
Krueger had a great day as well, pushing Sobczak more than anyone else. She was runner-up in a close finish to Sobczak in the 500 while winning the 100 freestyle and helping the 400 free relay to a win.
“They trained right next to each other,” Marquette coach Nathan McFarren said, “and fed off each other. Just incredible to watch. They one-upped each other and pushed each other up until the race every day.”
They led Marquette to its third-straight U.P. championship as they and their teammates dominated the nine-team field with 386.5 points; runner-up Gladstone had 258. Ishpeming Westwood took third with Kingsford fourth, Houghton fifth, Sault Ste. Marie sixth, Ishpeming/Negaunee seventh, Rudyard eighth and Manistique ninth.
Sobczak said her dad wasn’t a big fan of the pre-race joke, but she said everyone laughed. And in the end, the duo put on a great 500 race with Krueger coming on strong late.
“I had to push myself in that race a lot,” Sobczak said.
That’s her favorite event; she’s a distance swimmer and that’s the only true distance event. Winning that one Saturday and making it a perfect 4-for-4 meant a lot to her.
“It’s amazing, crazy,” Sobczak said. “I got up there, and I started crying because it’s so surreal.”
She was even more reflective at the end of the day.
“I’ve been swimming since I was 6 years old. This was my last race at this pool,” Sobczak said. “We’re three in a row, it’s pretty crazy. Last year I got four (U.P. titles), this year I got four, it’s pretty cool.”
Her coach said she’s quiet but a great leader. She “stepped it up this year with taking charge as a senior,” McFarren said.
And she has a teammate she can pass the baton to in Krueger. While Krueger finished less than two seconds after Sobczak, the next swimmer was more than 30 seconds behind Krueger.
“I knew it’d be close because we always race together, but I’m glad she won,” Krueger said.
Freshman Kaytlin Roell finished first in the 50 free as Marquette won its 28th U.P. Finals team title and fifth over the last six years.
Gladstone senior Adrianna Getzloff had a big day, finishing first in the 200 free and the 100 backstroke. She also helped the Braves to a first-place finish in the 200 medley relay.
Two of her teammates also had first-place finishes – sophomore Irene Neumeier won the 100 butterfly and junior Mary Hook took the 100 breaststroke. They were also on the 200 relay team along with Ava Getzloff.
Westwood sophomore Maggie Harvala won the diving competition with a score of 214.90.
McFarren made it a combined 17 Finals championships as coach for boys and girls for Marquette, tying Marquette’s Matt Williams for the meet record.
PHOTOS (Top) Marquette's Grace Sobczak swims to a victory in the 500-yard freestyle Saturday. (Middle) Kaytlin Roell swims the 100 breaststroke for Marquette. (Below) Gladstone's Mary Hooks swims to the win in the breaststroke. (Click for more from Jarvinen Photos.)