With a first-year head coach and without two All-State performers from a year ago, the Lakers will be hoping to break a few stars into finals between the lane lines and will rely on their divers to rack up points in the deep end.
After a tremendous performance at the O-K Greater Grand Rapids Conference Meet, Spring Lake will send three divers and seven swimmers to the big dance with an across-the-board goal of making back to compete in Saturday’s finals.
Leading the way for the Lakers is the diving team, who finished off a tumultuous final month of the season with stellar performances at the conference and regional meets. Seniors Audra Bialik and Ronnie Russell along with junior Ellie Higgs shot up in places at every meet of the postseason, using the dramatic improvement to advance to the big dance.
“It is fun to have three going, and a little unexpected,” head diving coach Tom Knight said. “This season could be subtitled contusions and concussions. They really pulled through in the last month.”
A late tweak to the girls’ approach nearly derailed the season. Former Laker standout diver Paige Rubleski filled in for a practice and enlightened the team to a new, well known technique useful for extra altitude off the board.
“She texted me and said, ‘By the way, I changed Audra’s approach,’ and I was like, oh, that’s a biggie.’ I knew of the approach but had never done it or taught it.” Knight said. “The other girls saw it and wanted to try it, so Audra taught them. They all caught on and immediately got a lot more height.”
While the extra altitude would do wonders for their scores eventually, the Lakers were flying a little close to the sun.
“With the extra height Ronnie was getting, she over rotated on her front double summersault, smacked her face to the water and got a concussion,” Knight said. “Ellie with the new approach landed with her right foot halfway off the board and went down, bruises all over the place and was out for a week, and this is all in the last bit of the season.”
With two divers out and little over a month before the postseason push, the Lakers put their tenacity on display, getting back on the board as soon as possible.
“It was awful, but you have to get the kids back on the board immediately. I don’t care if you walk to the end and just jump off, you have to get back on and do something so your head doesn’t go crazy,” Knight said.
“In diving, you have to know you are going to get hurt,” Bialik said. “Whether it is learning a new dive or just messing up one you have had forever. For us this year, it was all about endurance and overcoming being scared to go off the board.”
“I was scared of the board, I did not want to get back on the board,” Higgs said. “I refused to get back on the board until coach convinced me.
“It is pretty amazing the way we support each other and calm each other down. The support system we have as a team is great.”
With everyone back on the boards just in time for the conference meet, the Lakers’ altitude and scores soared, catapulting them into the postseason.
“That was a real turning point,” Knight said. “Leading up into conference, I think they got in their heads that they could do well at conference, and then they did.”
Senior captain Bialik leads the group in her third appearance at the state meet. After being cut in the semifinal round for 17th-and 20th-place finishes in her previous two appearances, Bialik holds the fourth seed in this year’s competition.
Bialik punched her ticket during the regular season, earning enough regional points by winning dual meets to extend her season past the conference meet, where she finished eighth and earned All-Conference honors. At the regional, she easily placed within the top 12 state-qualifying spots with a third-place finish.
After an arduous journey back from her concussion, Russell went into the conference meet seeded 23rd, while the top 17 divers earn a bid to regionals. With determination and a sound list, she moved into 17th, sneaking into the postseason. She did it again at the regional, moving up to ninth to take a qualifying spot.
Higgs, who clinched her second appearance at state after missing out in her sophomore year, entered the conference meet in 20th and dropped to 14th to earn a spot at the regional. There, she took seventh, sliding comfortably into the big dance.
With three qualifiers for the first time in recent memory, the Spring Lake diving team hopes to continue their stellar postseason with consistent technique and cool heads.
“We have the mindset of, we have put so much into this season, who not take the opportunity to go on,” Bialik said. “Hopefully, we can show everything we have learned during those 11 dives at state. If not, this one meet doesn’t define a career, we are excited to give it our all.”
A similar sentiment is shared by the Lakers lining up behind the blocks — just make it to Saturday.
Junior Sara Mumby and freshman Eliza Hulverson qualified individually for Spring Lake; while seniors Madi Miller, Josie Brown, Madelyn Rabideau, junior Louise Vega and freshman Zoe Komar will join in for relays.
Mumby is making a return trip to the state meet after taking 15th place in the 100-yard freestyle, 31st in the 50 freestyle, and appearing on the Lakers’ All-State medley relay last season.
This year, she will once again take on the 50 and 100 freestyle with the 20th and 14th seeds, respectively.
“I think Sara has a fair shot to make it make in both of her finals,” head swim coach Kaci Weibenga said. “Her and Eliza are really close in the 100, so that should be a good race.”
This season’s newcomer of the year easily goes to Hulverson. The freshman put up multiple state-qualifying times over the course of the season to join Mumby as the only two swimmers to save their taper for the state meet.
Hulverson sits seeded 18th in the 200 individual medley, two spots out of a chance to swim on Saturday, and right on the finals bubble in 16th for the 100 freestyle.
“Eliza had best times at conference, so to see her swim actually tapered is exciting,” assistant coach Ellen Weisse said. “It would be really exciting to get her into finals as a freshman.”
The remaining members of the Spring Lake state team will combine to make up the three relays. The Lakers’ 200 medley is seeded 17th, their 200 freestyle relay 15th and their 400 freestyle relay 23rd.
“We would love to get our relays back on Saturday. We have seen some awesome drops from a few girls competing for those spots,” Weisse said. “It isn’t a surprise based on how hard these girls worked and they way they push each other so we want to make sure that all pays off.”
“We just have to keep the focus on having fun, we have worked so hard so don’t let fear or nerves get the best of your now, enjoy yourself,” Weibenga said. “They are all the type of kids that when they are having fun they do well. This is a huge moment in your swimming career but we have to make sure to keep it in perspective and enjoy ourselves if we want the results we have been working for.”