WAYLAND – Laney Wolf made a giant splash last year in her debut at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Swimming & Diving Finals.
As a freshman, the Wayland standout won individual titles in the 50 and 100-yard freestyles – becoming the first swimmer in school history to earn a Finals championship while putting the rest of the state on notice that she will be around to contend for more over the next three years.
“Last year was a great experience, especially being able to win in the 50 and 100 free,” Wolf said. “It was really exciting, especially with my teammates and coaches cheering me on.
“I've done a lot of club swimming, but it was just a different atmosphere for high school because it was a big state meet. It was important.”
Wolf entered her first Finals with zero expectations.
“I didn’t expect to win,” she said. “I swam well in the preliminaries, and I was first. Then in the finals, I just gave it all I had and ended up with the wins.”
Wayland swimming & diving coach Seth Beat also had no idea what to expect from his talented young swimmer.
“When she came in, I knew she was going to score well in our conference and be a top competitor,” Beat said. “And then tracking her progress, it was exciting to see her growing and climbing the ranks at the state level.”
The opportunity to qualify for her Finals was satisfying enough.
“I was just happy for her to go to state with her being ranked in the top eight in her individual races, and for her to finish first in those was just mind-blowing,” Beat said. “We were all proud of her, and it was just go and swim as hard as you can and be happy with the outcome.
“And I think we will have the same mindset this year. Let's just go, be focused and do what you can. Be mentally and physically ready and just give it her all.”
Wolf will try to duplicate last year’s awe-inspiring effort when she competes in this weekend’s Finals at Oakland University. She has the fourth-fastest LPD3 qualifying times in both of her signature events (24.54 in the 50 and 53.55 in the 100).
“I'm really excited about the 50 free this year, and I think I have a really good shot at that event,” Wolf said. “I know there is a lot more competition than there was last year, but I'm still going to try my best and give it everything I have.”
Wolf has reason for optimism after recording a personal best in the 50 during practice.
“I’ve been very happy with how I’ve swam this season,” she said. “I had 24 (seconds) during the hard week of practice, which was huge for me to be able to do that.”
Beat has witnessed firsthand Wolf’s climb to early success at the high school level. He first met her when she was 6 years old while taking part in the Wayland AquatiCATS Swim Program.
“She has a killer instinct and is very competitive,” Beat said. “She comes from a family of athletes.”
That family of athletes includes two brothers and an older sister, who’s also on the team, and who constantly push each other and strive for excellence. Laney also played basketball and ran track as a freshman.
“I’ve coached them all in swimming and taught them in the classroom, and they just set high goals and are extremely determined to meet those goals,” Beat said. “They will work out in the weight room, eat right, swim right and will train seven days a week.
“They will do what they need to do in order to make sure they achieve their goals. It’s in their genes and makeup. They put their best foot forward to be the best they can be.”
Wolf’s work ethic, perseverance and positive attitude provide her with the necessary motivation to excel.
“I never give up, and I always try my best at practice,” Wolf said. “I do club swimming over the summer, and I'm always putting in the work to do the best I can.
“When I’m getting ready for my races, I don't think about my competition. I just picture the event before I swim it, and I'm trying to perfect everything in my head before I go into that event and get into a good head space.”
Wolf isn’t feeling any pressure to repeat this weekend.
“I think no matter how I do, I will be happy with how it turns out,” Wolf said. “No matter what, it will be a good end to the season.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Wayland’s Laney Wolf swims one of her races; she’s among the state’s elite sprinters. (Middle) Wolf is awarded with her 100 freestyle championship at last season’s LPD3 Finals. (Photos courtesy of the Wayland athletic department.)
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.)