Second place gets all the excitement at CHSL girls swim championships

Farmington Hills Mercy High School won its 28th straight CHSL swimming and diving championship last Saturday. Led by coach Mike Venos, the Marlins blew the competition out of the water again, finishing almost 200 points higher than runner-up Marian High School. 

There was an undercurrent last Saturday at the Livonia Recreation Center where the CHSL hosted the girls swimming and diving championship.

It wasn’t so much about who would take home the victor’s spoils. That was a given: it’d be the same school that has done so the last 28 years in a row, and in 53 of 54 championship events dating back to 1965.

Coach Mike Venos’ Farmington Hills Mercy won half of the dozen events combined with depth galore to create a nearly 200-point cushion over the nearest competitor.

The excitement was over who would be the best of the rest of the field. That wasn’t decided until the last event, the 400-yard freestyle relay, when Bloomfield Hills Marian placed second worth 32 points for a three-point edge over their Lahser Road neighbors from Cranbrook Kingswood.

The spirited rivalry will only get more intense this weekend, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16-17, during the MHSAA Division 3 state championships at the Holland Aquatic Center, where the Cranes will be trying to repeat their 2017 title and Marian was runner-up.

Mercy doesn’t have to travel as far, to Eastern Michigan University, to defend its Division 1 championship.

Here’s some of the poolside chatter as we make the rounds of the teams in the order they finished:

The 2018 Mercy High School championship swim team is pictured following its meet at the Livonia Recreation Center. 

Mercy (1st, 612 points) – The Marlins qualified 17 swimmers for the state finals, which Venos says “is a pretty good number.” But it doesn’t mean a thing. “I’ve had a team with 21 qualifiers and we lost, and one with only seven and we won.”

“We have the depth,” Venos adds, which was the difference in the 29-point win over runner-up Saline a year ago. Mercy didn’t win a single event.

He coaches Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice swimmers in the spring. The Warriors will be seeking to avenge Novi Detroit Catholic Central for breaking Rice’s 26-year grip on CHSL boys swim championships. “It’s not a rivalry until you get beat.”

Marian (2nd, 423 points) – Mercy and Cranbrook each have their own pools to practice in. Other CHSL schools aren’t so fortunate. Consider what Marian goes through for its practices: at Ferndale High School, Royal Oak Middle School (the old Dondero building), and Cranbrook “when they’re not using it,” says coach Bill Thompson. “We’re good at car pooling.”

Cranbrook Kingswood (3rd, 420 points) – As if the Cranes and Mustangs don’t have enough worrying about what each other is doing, the MHSAA has made things a bit stickier by re-arranging all sports in equal or nearly equal divisions based upon enrollment.

The 211 high schools that have girls swim teams are divided into Division 1 (70 schools with enrollment of 1,668 and above), Division 2 (70 schools 999-1,667) and Division 3 (71 schools 998 and below).

“By one student,” coach Chris Bagley points out, “last year’s Division 2 champion, East Grand Rapids (with 998 enrollment) drops down to our division. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Bagley, a 2007 Rice alum, swam for Coach Venos. “I was on the 2007 state champs team.” He’s guided the girls to state titles in 2012 and 2017, and was an assistant on the boys teams for four state championships.

“I love trophies,” he quips.

Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (4th, 207 points) – Here is a most unusual situation for a number of reasons. First, this was the first time Liggett has been eligible for year-end CHSL playoffs since joining the league a couple of years ago. Second, there was no girls team for the last five years. Third, there are only nine girls on the squad. Fourth, they each practice at their own swim clubs. Fifth, coach Nick Valice doesn’t see his swimmers all together until a meet.

Considering all of that, they did pretty well, placing seven times in the top eight and an additional 10 in places nine through 16 – headlined by junior Sophie Housey. She won the 200 freestyle in 1:48.60, nearly a half-second off the league record, and then establishing a new league record winning the 100 backstroke in 55.63, just seven-hundredths better than what Mercy’s Katie Minnich did in 2015.

Dearborn Divine Child (5th, 143 points) – For the Falcons, who practice at Dearborn Heights Robichaud High, coach Beth Assenmacher says this year’s 24-member team is “awesome” compared to a year ago. 

“We’re much stronger,” she said, pointing out that five have qualified for the upcoming state finals.

She’s assisted by Fiona Baughman, who graduated last year and is a freshman at Michigan State. “I just wanted to come back and help.”

Madison Heights Bishop Foley (6th, 115 points) – “We have a great core of freshmen,” says coach Matt Dutka. The 21-member roster includes a handful of swimmers from Bloomfield Hills Sacred Heart Academy. They practice at Madison Heights Lamphere. Two freshmen qualified for the state finals, Dutka says: Dani Tews in the backstroke and Ilye Wallace in the 100 and 500.

“We won seven meets this year, a school record, and set multiple individual records,” the coach adds.

Warren Regina (7th, 97 points) – Coach Greg Wolff, in his second year, calls this a “rebuilding” year. “We suffered a heavy graduation loss, but we’ve come a long waym” he says. 

Seniors Sienna Sweet and Jordan Jones placed sixth and tenth respectively in diving. The Saddlelites practice at Warren Woods Tower.

The winners’ circle – In addition to the aforementioned Sophie Housey from Liggett, here are the other winners:

  • Double winner sophomore Greta Gidley, of Mercy: the 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley.
  • Double winner Cranbrook Kingswood 200 freestyle relay team (Hale Oal, Sydney Allison, Jordan Durrell, Camille Misra) and 400 freestyle relay team (Jordan Murrell, Charlotte Trunsky, Justine Murdock, Gwenyth Woodbury).
    Sophomore Gwenyth Woodbury, of Cranbrook Kingswood, 50 yard freestyle.
  • Ciara McCliment, of Mercy, in diving.
  • Junior Kylie Goit, of Mercy, 100 yard butterfly.
  • Senior Courtney Connolly, of Mercy, 100 yard freestyle.
  • Junior Sarah Puscas, of Mercy, 500 yard freestyle.
  • Marian’s 200 yard medley relay team (Lauren Sielicki, Mary Snyder, Anika Fassett, Julia Waechter).