With state finals uncertain, Cranbrook swimmers reflect on their eventful season

Eryn McLaughlin, Justine Murdock, Julijana Jelic and Carolyn Farner begin a backstroke race for Cranbrook, which was the top-rated team in the state in Division 3 at the time of the season’s suspension on Nov. 18. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Trunsky)

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Charlotte Trunsky, a senior captain of the Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood swim team, is used to being down in the water. But much of her season has been up in the air.

Trunsky has been ready to swim both the 50- and 500-yard freestyle events at the state finals, originally scheduled to be held this weekend. She’s one of 12 state qualifiers for coach Paul Ellis’ squad, which is ranked No. 1 in the state in Division 3 competition.

But now, the girls are wondering if, or when, they’ll get a chance to resume, following the state public health department’s Nov. 15 order that instills a three-week pause in youth sports and face-to-face high school instruction.

“We’re all optimistic, hoping for the best,” Trunsky said. “If not, we’re going to be grateful for what we did have. We’re keeping our heads up.”

The swimmers do have a sliver of hope. The Michigan High School Athletic Association has plans to resume suspended post-season tournaments for swimming, volleyball and football — provided the rate of COVID-19 cases slow significantly at the end of the three weeks, on Dec. 9.

If so, the swim finals could be held on Dec. 22-23, under the MHSAA plan approved Wednesday (Nov. 18) by its executive council, which includes Catholic High School League director Vic Michaels. 

“We’re doing everything in our power to extend our fall tournaments,” MHSAA executive director Mark Uyl said during a Zoom press conference at the beginning of the week. “If we have to complete those three tournaments with zero spectators, but at least that means those kids get to the finish line of their season, so be it. Seeing all of the fall sports that were able to finish is keeping us motivated to try and finish the remaining tournaments.”

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook swimmers Allison O’Donnell, Charlotte DeSantos, Charlotte Trunsky, and Elea Mast enter the pool at the start of their freestyle race. Cranbrook hopes to get a chance to swim in the Division 3 state finals, pending the approval of the state health department and the Michigan High School Athletic Association (Photo courtesy of Matthew Trunsky)

A logical conclusion to the season is not the first item of uncertainty Cranbrook and other Catholic League squads have encountered this fall. At first, teams were not permitted to use indoor pools, but that restriction was eventually lifted. Since Cranbrook’s Williams Natatorium has been undergoing renovations since March, the girls have drifted from site to site. There was a limit on the number of athletes and schools attending a meet at one time, so schedules were altered and many high-profile meets disappeared from schedules. 

“It’s tough,” said Ellis, who is in his first season at Cranbrook. “When we started the season, we didn’t know if we were going to get two days, two months, or whatever. But I’ve got an amazing group of girls and senior leaders, and they just decided we’re going to make the best of it.”

“It’s definitely had a lot of ups and downs,” Trunsky said. “We began in August, and were all excited that we were able to get back in a pool. Then we had a pause and we were worried that that COVID would put an end to our season pretty quickly. Then we resumed, but we were bouncing from one pool to another. 

“It was all going pretty smoothly until this week.”

It’s been a whirlwind as of late. Last weekend’s Catholic League championship meet underwent several format revisions at the 11th hour. Ultimately, half of the teams swam their events at Waterford Kettering on Friday, Nov. 13, while the other half appeared the following day. 

Before the weekend was out, the state’s order put the season on hold as of Wednesday. But the MHSAA allowed teams to hold time trials on Tuesday — prior to the pause — to get one more day of fast swimming in, in case the state meets don’t happen.

Of Cranbrook’s 12 finals qualifiers, 10 of them had lifetime bests during the single-team “meet,” held at Bloomfield Hills High School’s pool.

“Specifically, the seniors, we didn’t know if they were going to be able to swim again representing Cranbrook. They said, ‘Let’s do the best that we can,’” Ellis said. “It was really electric for having no one in the stands and just having the girls pump each other up, but I think it’s going be to a totally different atmosphere when they can swim against other qualifiers, and they have the walk-out music and an announcer and all the other things.”

Cranbrook boasts two defending state champions and Oakland County champions in Justine Murdock (pictured at right) and Gwen Woodbury (pictured above).

Murdock, who won the backstroke, has committed to continue her career at Northwestern, while Woodbury, the 200 freestyle titlist, is bound for Ohio State.

Cranbrook has the lineup to do well at championship meets, led by defending state champs Gwen Woodbury and Justine Murdock, each of whom won Oakland County titles in their events this fall. But Ellis gets just as much payoff from fellow senior leaders Jordan Foxx, Hale’ Oal and Trunsky.

“After we swam on Tuesday, I talked with our girls, and I told them we’re going to have an alternative date for the state meet. I let them know they could be training for three weeks until this pause is over, or there might not ever be a meet,” Ellis said. “They all said they want to train. They set out at the beginning of the season with the goal that they wanted to win the state meet.”

“I’m really grateful for the girls on the team; we’re trying to keep a brave face and stay upbeat,” Trunsky said. “It was such unprecedented times that it really brought our team together, and this is probably the closest we’ve ever been. It strengthened us as teammates. We all went through some rough times this season having to deal with everything.”

No matter if that included switching from pool to pool, holding random, spontaneous dry-land practices or virtual team bonding. Or, in the current scenario, having to train wherever they can — with no guarantees their season can continue.

“I’m really proud we made it to the other end despite what was going on,” Trunsky said. “We found a way to continue what swimming is about. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and even if we don’t get a state meet, I’m going to remember all the things that went on this season.” 

“I’m happy to have had it, but I hope no one else has to have it this same way.”