When Kathryn Ackerman hit the pool for her first high school season this fall, she had already shown flashes of her skills at the middle-school level. However, her full potential was not yet clear. Grand Haven head swim coach Doug Thorne didn’t know exactly what the young swimmer was capable of or how high she could rise in her first season. The club swimming phenom seemed like free money, but expectations were guarded.
Then, she broke a school record in her first meet of high school, kicking off a long line of accomplishments typically reserved for older team members.
After a runner-up finish in the 200-yard individual medley and a fourth-place effort in the 500 freestyle event at the Division 1 state meet, Thorne can see the caliber swimmer he is dealing with.
Ackerman was beat out out by Ann Arbor Skyline senior and University of Michigan commit Emma Cleason in the I.M. by one second. However, Ackerman’s time in the event was the fastest 14-year-old mark in the country in the event, which thrust Ackerman into the limelight in her first state meet.
“I will be shocked if she doesn’t make it to the next Olympics,” Thorne said. “She is on her way.”
Praise that high seems unbelievable, especially for such a young athlete, but it is certainly justifiable given the stats this young teenager has put together in her career thus far.
By the end of her freshmen year of high school, Ackerman held the fastest 200 I.M. time of any 14-year-old in the country and the second fastest 500 freestyle time in the same category, which gave her All-American honors by a wide margin, an individual silver medal from the MHSAA Division 1 state meet and a spot in the top 25 class of 2020 swimming recruits in the nation.
On her way to national recognition, Ackerman took a stop by the Grand Haven High School record board, and rewrote it, along with pool record columns at nearly every pool she visited, and the O-K Red Conference records in both her individual events.
After breaking her first varsity record in her very first varsity meet, Ackerman never cooled down. It took dual meets with the cream of the crop to give her a challenge as she won nearly every race she was entered in.
Ackerman took a dual meet victory in every individual event over the course of the season, including an impressive victory in the 500 freestyle event, while swimming it as an individual medley against East Kentwood.
Titles are hard to come by when competing against fully developed seniors, making her two individual O-K Red Conference championships all the more impressive. In what has become her signature events, the 200 I.M. and 500 freestyle, Ackerman beat out hot shots from some of the best programs in the state in Rockford and West Ottawa. She won the I.M. by more than four seconds and finished two seconds ahead of second place in the 500, and 21 seconds ahead of third. Both times were good for fresh Grand Haven varsity and pool records, as well as, huge resets of the O-K Red Conference records.
No days off
Since the conclusion of her freshman season, Ackerman has thrown herself back into the club swimming pool, linking up with MLA in Holland to focus on developing her long course, or Olympic style, events in a 50-meter pool, rather than the 25-yard pools used in high school swimming.
“She hasn’t gotten out of the water since,” Thorne said. “She swims for MLA and is tearing it up.”
Most recently, Ackerman took on the 13-14 age group in the short course Michigan state meet, winning six gold medals and the 2017 Speedo Sectionals meet, picking up a silver medal in the long course 400 I.M.
Mixing it up
This spring, after exploding onto the Lakeshore swim scene, Ackerman took a detour to the tennis court, earning her varsity letter despite being assigned to the junior varsity squad. She played in five varsity matches as an alternate, earning her the distinction.
“She is very well controlled with her emotions and her game,” Grand Haven head tennis coach Chris Wilton said. “She doesn’t go crazy in any way, always very steady and calm.”
Ackerman’s championship pedigree is undeniable, as she rises to the top of whatever league she plays in. She finished off the spring with a JV singles conference championship, rolling through the tournament with a calm demeanor and winners mentality.
With a promising career ahead of her, Ackerman is primed to lead the Bucs to some of the best years the swim program has ever seen. Beyond the high school pool, look out for a hometown hero crashing the Olympic Trials come 2020 and a slew of national championship meets on her way. In the meantime, Michigan state titles will have to suffice for the young phenomenon.