Birmingham Brother Rice swimmers insist they’re up to the challenge.
If the Warriors hope to win their fourth consecutive Division 1 swimming and diving team championship, they will have to withstand challenges from at least five other teams right behind them.
Rice holds a slight edge following Friday’s preliminary rounds at Oakland University, yet Ann Arbor Skyline, Holland West Ottawa, Novi, Saline and Zeeland are all capable of claiming the top spot in the field.
“Other teams have been on our backs the whole season. They always want to see us fall, but we’re a great group of guys, the team’s very strong this year, and we’re planning to do really good (in Saturday’s finals),” said Brother Rice junior Alex Margherio, who swam the fastest time in the 100 backstroke (48.45 seconds) and was on the Warriors’ meet-leading 200 medley relay (1:31.90).
“We have a couple of instances this year where they had an opportunity to be under pressure, which is something that they really haven’t had the last two or three years,” Brother Rice coach Mike Venos said. “Their backs were a little bit against the wall today, and our first half we kind of swam a little tentative, so they responded pretty well in that second half.”
Brother Rice has nine swims in Saturday’s championship heats, including its 200 freestyle relay, which led the pack on Friday (1:25.27). But the Warriors know nothing is going to be handed to them for being three-time defending champions.
“We’ve been talking about that all year, and you know what, they’re pretty good about that — that’s an attitude that they really need to have,” Venos said. “They were complacent a little bit at the beginning of the season, but they kind of rallied once they were together as a team and got some practices under their belts.”
In the best race of the afternoon, Novi senior Camden Murphy set an all-class record in the 100 butterfly (47.36). Margherio was runner-up in 47.92, which would have been a Division 1 record had it not been for Murphy, who also leads the pack in the individual medley (1:50.14).
“It’s hard to accomplish everything you want to do at a meet like this – it’s so tough,” Novi coach Brent Pohlonski said. “We had a lot of things go our way, we had a few that didn’t, so we always like to have a lot more swims coming back on Saturday. We are right in the thick of it; it’s going to be a really fun meet.”
The Wildcats are aiming to eclipse their best finish at a state meet. They were fourth in 1989.
Generally, the top seeds are spread out throughout the other contending teams. West Ottawa’s Spencer Carl leads the 200 free (1:37.45) and the 500 free (4:31.05). Zeeland’s Gabe Trevino had the top time in the 100 free (45.28), and he led off the fastest 400 free relay (3:06.20). Saline’s Matt Lau finished best in the breaststroke (56.61) and Forest Hills Central sophomore Henry Schutte touched first in the 50 free (20.44), nosing out Trevino. Skyline doesn’t have the top seed in any races but has six swimmers seeded among the top four.
“It’s no surprise that we’re in the meet,” Saline coach Todd Brunty said. “I think that’s what we try to do every year, try to be a factor in the meet, whether it’s winning the meet or being on the podium (top four teams). It was a very good day here; everyone swam well against good teams and good competition. We’re happy to be a part of it.”
Despite all the balance shown Friday, Brother Rice remains the team to beat.
“If we take care of our business, we’re going to be in good shape,” Venos said. “There’s nothing like having a close state meet to get kids to swim even faster, and we enjoy that.”