Mercy wins another Catholic League swim title; sets sights on state finals

A happy Farmington Hills Mercy swim team rejoices in winning the Catholic League championship — just as the squad has 51 other times. Again this year, the Marlins led the seven-team field at the league finals, held last Friday and Saturday at the Livonia Recreation Center. (Photo courtesy of Mercy High School)

FARMINGTON HILLS — If we had typed the word “again” 51 times here, you’d get an idea of how dominant the Farmington Hills Mercy swimming and diving team has been over the years.

Except for a blip in 1990 when Marian was the upset winner, the Marlins have been Catholic League swim champions every season since 1967. That’s 52 out of 53 years.

While continuing the streak is not Mercy’s ultimate goal — finishing the season with a strong state meet performance is — the Catholic League meet still means a lot to coach Mike Venos, as well as Marlin swimmers past and present.

“As a coach, it’s probably my favorite team meet,” Venos said. “Everyone competes; we’ve got the whole team coming together and yelling for each other. It’s incredible to see all the girls show all that team support.”

Mercy had plenty to cheer about by the time the final swimmer touched the wall. Despite winning fewer than half of the 12 events, the Marlins’ depth enabled them to outdistance the competition. Spurred by multiple entrants in the championship heat of every event, Mercy racked up 585 points, finishing ahead of Bloomfield Hills Marian (424), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook (419), Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett (218), Dearborn Divine Child (135), Madison Heights Bishop Foley (122) and Warren Regina (97).

“The last two years have really defined this program,” said Venos, who is in his fourth year guiding the Marlins and also coaches the Birmingham Brother Rice team during the boys’ winter season. “You look at our team and we don’t have a bona fide superstar; it’s more about the word Mercy on our caps.”

The Marlins did have five first-place finishes: Kylie Goit in the individual medley (2:07.32), Greta Gidley in the 50 freestyle (23.73), Samantha Diaz in the 100 free (53.73), diver Ciara McCliment (412.60 points), and the 200 free relay squad of Gidley, Emma Enquist, Madeline Basa and Julia Coffman.

“The girls who had state cuts didn’t swim their top events; we had fun with the lineup,” Venos said. “We’re pretty fortunate to have that kind of team. It’s really nice we have a lot of team players. As much as swimming is a team sport, it can still be very individualized.”

Next, the Marlins approach this weekend’s Division 1 state championship meet at the Holland Aquatic Center as one of the favorites to win another team title.

“I haven’t paid much attention to that (the state rankings),” Venos said. “It’s nice to be in the conversation, to have people looking over their shoulder at you at the state meet. The moment you get your opponent to think about something other than their best, you’ve got them.”

Mercy has qualified 15 swimmers and a regional-champion diver. Since all of the team’s entrants have made state cuts in multiple events, plotting out the lineup for the best possible outcome is more complicated than usual. A swimmer can be in two relays and two individual events, tops.

“It’s a really good problem to have,” said Venos, hoping for an outcome similar to the 2018 finals. Last November, the Marlins didn’t have an individual champion, but still piled up enough points to win the state title by having multiple girls score points in several events.

“(Ann Arbor) Pioneer, Rockford, Saline, you could put Rochester Adams in there — they’re all stocked with top-end talent,” Venos said. “We need to score two to every one of theirs. We just have to keep throwing numbers at everybody. But you know what? I’d still like to have it that way.”

Still, Venos figures his team has a really good chance, based on recent experience and a talented senior class — six of whom signed national letters of intent on Monday. Goit and Coffman accepted scholarships to Michigan State, joining Lindsey Case (Hope), Bella Genise (John Carroll), Emily Guerrera (Xavier) and Alex Callaghan (Lynn).

“We have 17 seniors; six signed and all but five may swim in college,” Venos said. “They were my first class when I started here. It’s been a fun four years.”

Under guidance from coach DeLoris Yager — the namesake of the Mercy pool and the Catholic League’s scholar-athlete award for girls swimming — the Marlins won the inaugural girls’ state championship in 1972, and have aimed to stay at that level ever since.

“It’s funny. We get texts from (alumnae) girls I do not know, saying things like, ‘We’re out here in Massachusetts pulling for you.’ It’s a heck of a community with a rich swimming tradition, and I want to make sure it’s not lost on these girls. You’re part of something bigger than yourself.

“We’ve been successful for a reason — you swim for Mercy.”