For Grand Haven, sophomore standout Kathryn Ackerman will be the headliner. At last year’s Division 1 state meet, Ackerman finished as a runner-up in the 200-yard individual medley and placed fourth in the 500 freestyle.
Ackerman, the No. 1-ranked swimming recruit in the state and No. 23 nationally, will be joined by experienced upperclassmen and a freshmen class chalked full of up-and-coming standouts.
“Last year, we finished fifth in our powerhouse of a league in the O-K Red Conference,” said Grand Haven head coach Doug Thorne. “Rockford won the conference and went on to become state champions. West Ottawa, which finished second in our conference, finished fifth at the state meet. Hudsonville finished 11th, we finished 15th and Grandville finished 20th at the Division 1 state meet, so our conference is filled with quality teams and programs.”
The influx of new talent combined with the experienced leaders already on the squad give Thorne hope that the 2017 Buccaneers will have plenty to cheer about this fall.
“We may have one of the deepest teams in recent years,” he added. “We are looking for huge point contribution from the following girls: seniors Katalin Kovach in the freestyle events and Stephanie VanNuil in diving.
“Juniors Anna Ackerman in the distance freestyle events, Alex Bergman in the breaststroke, Kirbey Colella in backstroke, Annah Taylor returns as a state qualifier in the fly events, Brooke Zellman in the sprints and Natalie Koetsier in diving.
“Sophomores Jessica Boyer in the fly and free events, Allona Clark is another returning individual state qualifier in the 200 individual medley and freestyle events, and Kirsten Dykstra in the diving event.”
Freshman Georgia Basil, who finished fourth in the 1,000-yard freestyle at the Michigan LSC Championships in March with a time of 10 minutes, 44.74 seconds, leads the class of newcomers for the Buccaneers.
“She will contribute in the IM events and distance freestyle events right away,” added Thorne. “Ellyn Skodack will also contribute in the backstroke events, Maryviolet Springer in the backstroke events, and Ocean Veldhouse in the sprint freestyles. Molly Woiteshek will give us great depth throughout our lineup, as well, while Kendall Hamm will be a key addition to our diving and sprint freestyles teams.”
What the Buccaneers lack in experience, they more than make up for in talent and depth, which should make them a favorite to compete in the O-K Red Conference. A strong finish in their league would more than likely push Grand Haven into contention for a bigger prize in November.
“Our team outlook is to continue to be more competitive in our conference throughout the season, and maybe finish in the top 10 at our state meet in November,” Thorne added. “If some of the younger swimmers can grow into their new roles quickly, we should have a good chance of reaching all of our goals this year.”
The Lakers finished fifth in the O-K Greater Grand Rapids league last season, and will have a lot of experience and talent to replace this fall.
Former Spring Lake standouts Megan Peel (nine-time All-State) Jen Meulenbelt (eight-time All-State), Annie Brechting and Allison Brown will be difficult to replace as both performers and leaders in 2017, but new head coach Kaci Wiebenga has high hopes for the challenging road ahead.
“Last year, we finished fifth in the conference, which was pretty exciting in the new O-K Greater Grand Rapids Conference,” she said. “That was a great new challenge for our team. This year, we are hoping to come back even stronger than last year, even though we lost a few key players from last year’s team.”
KEY RETURNERS: Senior team captain Audra Bailik (diver), senior team captain Madelyn Rabideau (sprinter and distance), senior team captain Made Miller (sprinter), sophomore Shalini Hayenga (backstroke) and junior Sara Mumby (sprinter, flyer).
KEY NEWCOMERS: Freshman Zoe Komar, freshman Eliza Hulverson, freshman Eve Geschiere and freshman diver Lindsey Smith.
“This year, we added a couple meets that will be a new challenge for us, including the West Michigan Relay meet coming up in early September,” Wiebenga added. “We are excited to begin training and building our team. Last year, there were a lot of surprises as we navigated the new conference, so this year, we are coming in confident and going into our meets ready to see what we can bring to the competition.
“The O-K Greater Grand Rapids league is one of the tougher swim conferences in the state, with teams like East Grand Rapids and Forest Hills Central always putting together quality teams. We look forward to swimming against them, and challenging ourselves with every conference race we compete in.”