State swim roundup: Mercy's team approach nets Division 1 title

Nolan Bianchi
Special to The Detroit News

Rochester — They didn’t have a superstar, but they did have each other.

At Saturday’s Division 1 girls swimming and diving finals at Oakland University, Farmington Hills Mercy outlasted Farmington Hills Harrison, Farmington and Saline with an onslaught of good – but not great – finishes, earning its first state title since 2013.

“I knew we didn’t have a whole lot of top-end kids the way Saline does, and we were going to have to offset that by scoring as many kids in events as possible,” Mercy coach Mike Venos said. “Everybody else is going to run, you just take care of your own business and things are going to fall into place.”

The team had just two top-3 finishes, a second-place performance from Katie Minnich in the 100 backstroke, and a third-place finish from Courtney Connolly in the 200 IM. For Venos, in his second year at Mercy after spending 17 years with the Brother Rice boys, getting his team to believe they could win with this structure was difficult.

“It’s been a little bit of a struggle,” said the Division 1 Swim Coach of the Year. “It really is hard to trust … I think this year they started to buy in a lot more.”

Farmington Harrison junior Ashley Turak, who has offers from Michigan and Michigan State, earned four first-place finishes — including a Division 1 and pool record in the 50-yard freestyle — in as many attempts to help lift her team to third place. She was also voted Division 1 Swimmer of the Meet.

“Last year we were in the teens with our state finishing, and being in the top five this year, it’s amazing that I’m able to represent my team and do this for them,” Turak said.

Her most impressive performance came in the meet’s final event, a 400 freestyle relay showdown with Mercy, Ann Arbor Skyline, and the Division 1 second-place finisher, Saline. Turak beat her competitor’s anchors by 2.76 seconds, grabbing Farmington’s first lead of the race and securing a victory.

“I didn’t think we were going to win it, but I’m really happy that we did,” Turak said. “We were getting the girls amped up to give it all that they can for the last event of the season.”

Saline got off to the hottest start of the day. The team of Lizzy Spears, Emma Loveland, Emily Klemptner, and Johanna Jorgenson picked up first-place in the 200 medley relay, Maddie Luther earned a spot at the top of the podium in the 200 freestyle, and Lizzy Spears and Johanna Jorgenson finished second in the 200 IM and 50 freestyle, respectively. The early success put Saline in first place after four events.

Jorgenson, who is still battling back from a mid-season ankle sprain, gave Turak all that she could handle in the freestyle events, adding another second-place finish to her resume during the 100-yard race.

“It was really nerve-wracking, the whole entire meet I was so nervous,” Jorgenson said about her competition. “It’s also amazing to be next to her, though, because it pushed me even harder.”

Grand Haven sophomore Kathryn Ackerman made history for the second straight day in the 200 IM, breaking the Division 1 record she set Friday with a time of 1:57.92 to claim first place easily.

Zain Smith earned Ann Arbor Skyline their first top individual finish. She took a 0.8-point lead over Gracie Sleeman from Forest Hills Northern/Eastern and executed an inward 1.5 somersault pike to perfection to earn her a 10.35-point victory, a routine she began two years ago.

“I was nervous, but I have a routine I follow every single meet, and it’s all about the breathing, calming my nerves, bringing myself confidence,” Smith said. “So throughout, I knew I was going to hit it.”

Half of a second from grabbing a Division 1 record Friday, Rockford junior Morgan Kraus’ second attempt at the 100 butterfly record hit the bulls-eye. She finished with a time of 53.73, putting her ahead of familiar foes Spears and Ackerman who finished second and third, respectively.

Division 2

East Grand Rapids earned its second consecutive Division 2 title at the Holland Aquatic Center, winning the 200 freestyle and medley relays and finishing second in the 400-yard relay. Ileah Doctor picked up individual first-place finishes for East Grand Rapids in the 50 and 100 freestyle. Felicity Buchmaier of Forest Hills Central took first place in the 100 backstroke and butterfly, and her teammate, Colleen Kramer, was the event's top diver, beating Fenton's Taylor Shegos by a tight margin in the 1-meter event. 

Division 3

Cranbrook Kingswood beat second-place finisher Birmingham Marian, 292-207, to earn the Division 2 state title at Eastern Michigan University. Cranbrook finished first in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays and took second place in the 200 medley relay. Gwen Woodbury helped Cranbrook's cause in the freestyle department, taking home first-place finishes in the 100 and 200 freestyle. Mackenzie Crawford of Milan was the event's top diver, winning her second consecutive 1-meter dive event to momentarily move her team into second place. Notre Dame Prep's Rhianna Hensler won the 100 butterfly for the second year in a row and taking home a first-place finish in the 50 freestyle. Lauren Biglin of Marian also defended first-place honors from a year ago, successfully retaining her top spot in the 500 freestyle.