The pool is the same size as it always is, but this weekend the stage will feel the largest it’s been all year for girls swimming.
The Division 3 girls swimming state finals will have a strong Blue Water Area army ready to make a splash. Eleven St. Clair Saints, two Marysville Vikings and a Marine City Mariner will all be swimming and diving into Eastern Michigan’s pool on Friday looking to book a spot in Saturday’s finals.
At the girls swimming Division 1 state meet at Holland Aquatic Center sophomore Hallie Roman will be representing Port Huron Northern on the diving boards – the first Huskie to head to the state meet since 2010.
Marysville’s name will be carried by junior Allison Zhang in the 200 IM while they’ll watch freshman Keri Ryan on the diving board. Marine City’s lone representative will be junior diver Alyssa Crampton, and it’s something Mariners coach Sarah Blackstock saw coming from a few months back.
“I knew from the first week of practice that Allyssa would make it because of her focus,” Blackstock said. “She is one of our leaders and she keeps everyone working hard.”
With all four girls teams representing the Blue Water Area at states, they’ve put the local swimming community on the map. Next up is trying to bring some hardware and All-State finishes back for their cities to see.
Seniors final swim
It’s seen in Alexis “Red” Smith’s smile and Grace Shinske’s eyes that, at times, have had to hold tears back this week. For the two St. Clair seniors going to their fourth and final state meet, this week has more emotion than a pool can hold.
In one lane is the excitement of a potentially big weekend coming up in Eastern Michigan’s pool. Shinske is rated as the No. 1 seed in the 100 butterfly and backstroke and part of the top-seeded 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay. Smith is also on both relay teams and also finds herself seeded as a top-five swimmer in the 50 and 100 freestyle.
Anyone that ran into Smith on Wednesday knows that by now, though. She’s never been seeded that high before in the state meet, and she brought those psych sheets to every class to share with her friends.
In another lane is nerves – the inevitable butterflies that come before the largest and final meet of the year. Those four top seeds have sent Shinske into a blender of emotion, but she, head coach Ken Sygit and anyone who’s ever raced against her knows she’s capable of greatness.
“I’ve never been like a super confident ‘I got this kind of person,’ except at dual meets,” Shinske said. “I’ll feel better on Friday after prelims to know what my competition is like.”
In the next lane is the bittersweet feeling of knowing the end of their time in St. Clair swimming will end once they touch the wall in the 400 freestyle relay.
For both seniors, it’s been a heck of a journey. When Shinske imagines what her freshman self would say to her first place finish-laden, record-breaking and All-State career she’s created in four years, it’s still what she felt two days before the state meet – an overwhelming sense of joy and the occasional tears.
When Smith walked into St. Clair’s pool for practice as a freshman, the All-State career she’s swam toward wasn’t in the thoughts. After four years of heightened confidence and being the swimmer to beat in most meets, she’s blown her own expectations out of the water.
“I always looked at myself as the alternate or the person that would never be in the final heat or never all-state,” Smith said. “To be in a lane with an actual chance is like the best feeling.”
A storybook ending?
“I watch too many movies and read too many books for my own good.”
That’s what St. Clair head coach Ken Sygit admitted while watching his team swim laps yet again, probably for what seems like the thousandth time this season.
“I told them I don’t know what you believe, but I believe we are all here for a reason,” Sygit said. “We all didn’t just show up in St. Clair, Michigan at this time by happenstance.”
If it seems like Sygit believes the Saints are due for a special weekend, it’s because they are.
Sophomore Molly Likins is seeded second in the 100 breaststroke and 14th in the 50 freestyle, and her sister Heidi Likins is seeded at 16th in the 200 IM. Freshman Lola Laenen is looking at a big premier state meet as she’s the top-rated freshman in the 200 and 500 freestyle. Her sister Emilee Laenen is also slotted as the 28th seeded swimmer in the 50 freestyle.
Before the season there were sky-high expectations, and all the Saints have done is shatter them. However, it didn’t just come from swimming fast – it came from molding the team into a family.
“It’s not because it’s win at all costs and they are just win-hungry people,” Sygit said. “It’s the essence of the team and teamwork. I’ve been doing this 12 years, and you don’t see this a lot, but I’ve been able to watch this unfold.”
The season will all come together on Saturday for its grand finale with the Saints likely making the most noise on the pool deck like they have been all season. It feels like the season flew by quicker than the 50 freestyle, but weeks, months and years of hard work will be wrapped up on Saturday.
All that’s left unknown right now is exactly how much celebrating there will be.
“This is your story I told them,” Sygit said. “How do you want to write your story?”
State meet swimmers
- Hallie Roman, soph. (diving)
- Alyssa Crampton, jr. (diving)
- Allison Zhang, jr. (200 IM)
- Keri Ryan, fr. (diving)
- Grace Shinske, sr. (200 medley relay, 100 butterfly, 200 freestyle relay, 100 backstroke, 400 freestyle relay)
- Molly Likins, soph. (200 medley relay, 50 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay, 100 breaststroke, 400 freestyle relay)
- Heidi Likins, jr. (200 medley relay. 200 IM, 100 butterfly, 200 freestyle relay, 400 freestyle relay)
- Alexis Smith, sr. (200 medley relay, 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay, 400 freestyle relay)
- Magan Lambrecht, soph. (200 medley relay)
- Lola Laenen, fr. (200 medley relay, 200 freestyle, 500 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay, 400 freestyle relay)
- Maddie Leaver, fr. (200 medley relay, 100 butterfly)
- Emilee Laenen, soph. (200 medley relay, 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay, 400 freestyle relay)
- Laikyn Kulman, fr. (diving)
- Jenna Meyers, jr. (200 freestyle relay, 400 freestyle relay)
- Sammy Dodson, fr. (200 freestyle relay, 400 freestyle relay)