The Lakers already have two leaders who know what that feels like.
Juniors Jennifer Meulenbelt and Meg Peel both turned in All-State performances at last year’s meet, and will look to better their places at Ypsilanti.
Meulenbelt finished second in the 100-yard breaststroke, while Peel took fifth in the 100 backstroke (1:00) and seventh in the 100 freestyle (55.19).
Peel, who will compete in those events again this year, as well as the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays, said she’s switching up her emphasis a little bit this season.
“I’m focused more on the 100 free than I did last year,” Peel said. “Last year I feel like I was just going into it based on a fast relay time that I had. Now I’m changing how I swim a little bit technique-wise, just to get a good placing. (In the) 100 back, I really want to do a lot better than last year, maybe top three.”
Meulenbelt joins Peel on both relays, and will also compete in the 200 individual medley, and, of course, the 100 breastroke.
She thinks she can add a second All-State performance this season.
“I think I can get top eight in the 200 IM this year, especially since I dropped four seconds at conference,” Meulenbelt said. “That was really nice, I think I can get top eight in that. But definitely keep my second place, if not getting closer to the first-place girl. She’s like two seconds faster than me, I think. That’s a lot in a 100, but I’m feeling good. I think I’ll get up close to her. It would be nice to keep my place.”
Peel and Meulenbelt switched up their practice routine this year. While the standouts used to work out in lanes next to each other, they spent most of this season on opposite sides of the pool.
Head coach Penny Zacek said the move has paid dividends for the Lakers.
“I think they’re pulling kids to be better,” Zacek said. “Allison Brown dropped six seconds at conference to hit a state-qualifying time in the 200 free (2:05.69). That’s a huge time drop for swimming. She has just really come on this year. Sophie Kleinheksel, as a senior, has really stepped up her game, qualified in two events individually. (She) didn’t qualify at all last year, so that’s really exciting.
“It’s been a different feel this year — their focus is there. Not that they weren’t focused last year, but it’s (at a higher level). We’ve just got great upperclassmen. It’s been a really good mesh of personalities and work ethic, from lane one to lane eight they’ve really worked hard this season.”
Kleinheksel (57.09) will join Peel in the 100 freestyle and Brown and Peel in the 100 backstroke (58.15).
Mairead Cooper is the lone Laker in the 100 fly (1:02.98), while Brown womans the 200 freestyle (2:05.69).
Annie Brechting and Sara Mumby make up the 200 medley relay (1:51.8), with Mumby and Brown joining the junior duo in the 400 freestyle relay (3:47.83).
Meulenbelt, Mumby, Carly Komar and Josie Brown are the foursome for the 200 freestyle relay (1:45.67).
Audra Bialik (226.45) will compete in diving.
With all of that talent, Zacek sees a top 10 finish in her squad’s future.
“My goal is always kind of top 10,” Zacek said. “Last year we were 12th. If we swim as well as I know we can swim, I think top 10 is realistic.
“We just had some kiddos step up that I didn’t really expect these drops from. At our conference meet, we set six school records that I would have never imagined us getting. … That extra year for the ones coming back — for Mairead Cooper and Jen and Meg — that does make a big difference. They’re not as nervous and they know they belong there, that’s a big part.”