Burgeoning Bucs

Duncan MacLean • Nov 20, 2017 at 12:11 AM

AUBURN HILLS — A year after enjoying their best state meet performance in recent memory, the Bucs outdid themselves at the 2017 Division 1 swim and dive state championships.

Behind an inspiring day by sophomore Kathryn Ackerman and tremendous effort from the Grand Haven relay teams, the Bucs took home 12th place overall with 76 points.

“We are on the bubble of being in the top 10, that was a goal for us at the beginning of the year,” Grand Haven head coach Doug Thorne said.

“We were really close to that. We had a great weekend. We are trying to create a program and right now it is strong.”

After a solid session of swimming at Friday’s prelims, they Bucs were set up for success with their 200-yard freestyle relay locked into the “A” final, their 200-medley in 10th near the top of the consolation final and rising superstar sophomore Ackerman seeded first in the 200 individual medley and third in the 100 butterfly.

Ackerman did not disappoint. After dominating the field in prelims, setting new Michigan All-Class, Division 1 and Oakland University Natatorium records with a time of 1 minute, 58.94, Ackerman returned Saturday and upped the ante.

With all the available records broken, Ackerman dropped another second to lower the new standards to 1:57.92, capturing her first of what could be many state titles by nearly three seconds.

“It is really rewarding to put in all the months of hard training and finally win,” Ackerman said. “I try and not put too much focus on the time, I was more concerned with place. That is what I have been working for this season was winning it. The time was there in the end, which is always nice.”

“It was one of the cleanest, smoothest races I’ve ever seen out of any kid, boy or girl,” Thorne said. “It was neat to see. Smooth from start to finish, no mistakes, good transitions in and out of turns.

“It is one of those things you watch happen and its amazing, then you look up at the board and I think, ‘I have to get a picture of this, I have to get a picture of Grand Haven up there No. 1.’”

While the gravity of being the fastest Michigander ever will take some time to set in, the young star extended her legacy further than Michigan high school swimming over the weekend by setting the Oakland University Natatorium record.

The home of the 10-time Division I NCAA champion Golden Grizzlies has seen some fast swims, including the American record in the men’s 500 freestyle, but never any as fast as Ackerman’s 200 I.M.

“Oakland is no joke when it comes to swimming. They have been around for a long time and have had a lot of incredible athletes come through, and they attract top-tier competition,” Thorne said. “To think a 15-year-old girl is the fastest swimmer to come through this pool is pretty crazy.”

“I wasn’t expecting to go that fast,” Ackerman said of the time. “(Silver medalist) Lizzie (Spears) usually puts most of her effort into finals, so I knew I had to focus because she was going to drop time.

“It was a little stressful going that fast Friday, because everyone expects you to come back faster, but it was fun. I just tried to do my best and win it. It will be hard to come back and beat that next year, but it is something to motivate me now.”

When asked what her pool-record breaking swim means for her future in the event, Ackerman opted to enjoy the moment.

“It is crazy, I wasn’t expecting to go that fast, but I have had a good season of training, so it was nice to see that time,” she said. “There is a lot to look forward too, I think.”

The jack-of-all-trades swimmer continued her day hoping to move up in the 100 butterfly, where she was seeding third heading into finals. Chasing down O-K Red Conference rival Morgan Kraus of Rockford and Saline sophomore Lizzy Spears, Ackerman dropped time, but not enough to move up the podium.

Her final time of 54.76 held her third place and secured her second individual All-State award of the day.

Ackerman wasn’t the only Buc to take home All-State honors. She was joined by junior Annah Taylor, fellow sophomore Alonna Clark and freshman Ocean Veldhouse for an eighth place, All-State finish in the 200 freestyle relay, clocking in at 1:37.63.

It was history from start to finish for Grand Haven, who kicked off the meet with a school-record setting swim by the 200-medley relay team of junior Kirbey Colella, Ackerman, Taylor and Clark. After nabbing the 10th seed at prelims, the Bucs made a move in finals, beating out O-K Red rival West Ottawa for the consolation championship and ninth place with a time of time of 1:47.01

Breaking into the “A” final was an aforementioned goal for Grand Haven, who proved Saturday that they are continuing their charge into the upper echelon of Michigan swimming.

The 12th-place finish comes a year after 15th-place served as a watershed moment for the Grand Haven program, which hadn’t sniffed significant points in recent memory.

The Bucs’ 76 points over the weekend likely will only increase next season, as Grand Haven will not graduate any of their scorers from this year’s team.

In addition to skirting graduation consequences, Grand Haven had a few swimmers knocking at the door of finals this weekend.

Freshman standout Georgia Basil finished just one-spot out of a finals appearance in the 500 freestyle, finishing 17th in 5:10.64. Additionally, the freshman took 33rd in the 200 I.M.

The 400-freestyle relay team of Veldhouse, Clark, senior Katalin Kovach and Taylor fell just over a second short of making finals, finishing 22nd in 3:41.84, while Clark rounded out the Bucs weekend with a 34th place in the 200 I.M.

“With the eighth place in the 200 and the ninth place in the medley, we had a great weekend,” Thorne said. “Basil coming off a great tapered swim at conference and having to re-taper and just missing making it back is awesome. It is exciting for our team looking down the pipe.”

SL diving leaps into finals

After qualifying three divers for the state meet in a surprise postseason push, the Lakers were hoping to move past the first cut. Senior Ronnie Russell and junior Ellie Higgs failed to advance, finishing 22nd and 33rd, respectively.

Senior captain Audra Bialik made the cut, and more. Seeded 10th after Friday’s prelims, Bialik finished strong, moving up five places through the semifinals and finals to take fifth place overall, earning All-State Honors. Her final score of 360.10 also qualifies her for All-American honors.

“It was a great last meet for Audra,” Spring Lake diving coach Tom Knight said. “She remained focused, steady and completely in control. Saturday’s morning warm up was a little sketchy, but she nailed her ninth dive and followed up with two consistent final dives to finish off the weekend.”

Between the lane lines, the Lakers qualified one relay team for a swim on Saturday. The 200 freestyle relay team of seniors Josie Brown and Madelyn Rabideau, freshman Eliza Hulverson and junior Sara Mumby claimed the final spot in finals with a 16th-place finish at prelims.

In the Lakers’ lone swimming finals appearance, they did not disappoint. The speedsters moved up three places with a 1.38-second drop to take 13th place overall in 1:42.51.

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