County Champions! Again!!!!
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Big Reds repeat as county swim champs
By Chuck Klonke
Special to The Macomb Daily
Perhaps Chippewa Valley’s Skyler Muzichuk let her fingernails grow just a little bit longer this week. If that was the case, it turned out to be the difference between the Big Reds winning and finishing second in the 200-yard freestyle relay at the Macomb County Girls Swimming and Diving Invitational at L’Anse Creuse North. And winning that event may have provided the impetus for Chippewa Valley to repeat as county champions.
“That was huge,” said Big Reds coach Tony Grice. “Winning the 200 free relay turned the tide and gave us momentum going into the rest of the meet. I knew in the second half of the meet we’d be stronger, but Dakota had a pretty good lead on us.”
The first place from the 200 freestyle relay team of Samantha Gray, Emily Milke, Erika Willson and Muzichuk pushed Chippewa Valley four points ahead of Dakota in the team standings and the Big Reds maintained the lead the rest of the meet.
Chippewa Valley finished with 299.5 points to 276 for the runner-up Cougars. L’Anse Creuse, which had the senior swimmer of the meet in Nicole Hranchook, was third with 240 points.
The Big Reds’ margin of victory in the 200 freestyle relay was a miniscule three-tenths of a second with Muzichuk touching just ahead of Dakota’s Sierra Wilson.
“I was gunning for both freestyle relays,” Grice said. “I really went after them because that’s our strength this year. Last year we had some fast seniors and those senior divers. Up top, we weren’t as heavy this year, but winning this really tells a lot about us as a team -- our depth and the work the girls have put in. “And we’re a young team. We’re going to keep improving. That’s the most exciting part.”
Chippewa Valley put the finishing touch on the meet by breezing to a victory in the 400 freestyle relay with the team of Muzichuk, Leah Galloway, Willson and Gray posting a meet-record time of 3:48.00. “They were really flying in the relay at the end,” Grice said. “I don’t know if I expected that. It was awesome. They were really pumped.”
Chippewa Valley’s only individual first place came from Muzichuk in the 100 freestyle.
“Skyler had a great meet,” Grice said. “She won the 100 free and duplicated that time in the 400 relay. Emily (Frederick of Ford) out-touched her in the 200 free, but she still made a state cut. “I had a lot of girls step up. Our sophomore divers (Sydney Ronald and Kristen Kinsey) were phenomenal. Maggie Gray, a freshman, scored points just like (sister) Sam did when she was freshmen. Leah Galloway and Emily Milke stepped up for us in the relays. They made a huge difference. We don’t have that star power in the relays so we had to put together great swims.”
Grice said he knew that it wouldn’t be easy to repeat as county champion. “Dakota was gunning for us,” he said. “That’s a really good team and they’ve looked strong this year. They swam awesome today, too. I knew it was going to be a dogfight. The other teams knew we graduated some good swimmers, but it says a lot about our team that they were able to come back from that.”
Hranchook defended her title in the 100 breaststroke and added the 200 individual medley championship this year. She also swam the breaststroke leg of the 200 medley relay to help the Lancers take second place. “This means so much. I don’t even know how to react,” Hranchook said. “It’s something you always dream about and it’s always in the back of your mind, but you never know who can come into the county and compete against you.” A lot of work on the backstroke helped push Hranchook over the top in the 200 IM. “I trained hard all summer,” she said. “In the backstroke, I’ve been working hard with the help of my coach (Tony Schultz) and I’m getting a lot better. The IM is one of my favorite events. I like doing all the strokes.” Hranchook wasn’t taking anything for granted in her defense of the breaststroke title.
“After all these years, they’re still going after me so I have to compete my hardest,” she said. “I always try to swim at my top level.” Schultz said that Hranchook was deserving of her senior swimmer award, the second by a L’Anse Creuse swimmer in the last three years. “Nicole brings an energy that no one else on the team can match,” he said. “She’s the most motivated swimmer I’ve ever coached. She’s a pleasure to be around. She’s a great leader in and out of the pool. She deserves this. There’s nobody that shows more poise, motivation and drive. She does her work without questions and has always done everything I’ve asked of her.” Hranchook had to share some of the individual spotlight with Dakota sophomore Marah Pugh, who set county meet records in winning the 200 and 500 freestyle events. She also set a meet record with her leg in the 400 freestyle relay.
Pugh’s winning time in the 200 was 1:53.12. She came back to win the 500 in 4:59.16. Her 200 freestyle time beat the old mark of 1:54.58 set by Warren-Mott’s Rachel Komisarz in 1994. Pugh said that there’s a difference in swimming the two distance events. “I take the 200 as a sprint and the 500 is more of a paced race,” she said. “In the 200, I’m racing all the time. In the 500 I try to pace myself more.” She said she knew she might be on a record pace in the 200. “At the turn I said to myself, ‘I’ve only got 100 yards. I’m going to give it my all,’” she said. Dakota coach Heather Villerot said that sometimes it’s easy to take Pugh’s performances for granted. “You expect her to do well,” Villerot said. “Even though her times today were incredible, she still has a lot of work to do because her ultimate goal in the 500 is to get close to or win the state championship. Her records in the 200 and 100 beat a girl who went to the Olympics. I think Marah is proud to have her name with Rachel’s, knowing where she went and what she accomplished. “She’s only a sophomore, so the sky’s the limit.”
L’Anse Creuse North diver Taylor Zablocki broke the county record with a score of 485.80 points. The old mark of 468.75 was set by Stevenson’s Ashley Hardy in 2009.
“Getting the record means everything,” Zablocki said. “I’ve been pointing to that for a year. I’ve been working extremely hard.” Zablocki repeated as county diving champion, but LCN diving coach Jerry Bondy said that the junior is setting her sights even higher than the county. “She’s at the level now, where she’s looking at the best divers in the state, not just the county,” Bondy said. “We’re shooting for top four in the state this year and maybe even better. “She’s maturing. She realizes she has to put more into it if she’s going to dive at that level. She has improved 80 to 90 percent over last year.” Zablocki said that she has been adding dives to her repertoire. “Some days I’ll practice five hours,” she said. “I’ve added a couple new dives to get ready for state. Today I did one of them. The other one I just learned yesterday. I’m saving that for the state meet.”
Frederick made a bid for the county record in the 100 butterfly, but missed by less than a half-second. “I’m just happy with the win,” the Falcons sophomore said. “I don’t really care about the record.” Ford coach Dave Smith said that Frederick has worked for everything she has achieved. “I’ve been working with her since she was 10,” Smith said. “She’s not the most talented kid, but the one that works the hardest. She’s pretty beat up and tired right now, so the goal today was to do the best that she could. She’s pretty exhausted.”
Regina’s Suzie Lessnau won the 50 freestyle and finished second in the 100, posting state qualifying times in each. “I’m happy,” Lessnau said. “It’s the second year in a row I’ve made a double state cut.” She said the 50 is her favorite event. “It gives me a chance to go wild,” Lessnau said. “I love swimming real fast. I could never do the 500. It’s too slow. The 50 isn’t an easy race. You have to hold your breath a long time. My goal is two breaths, max. It all came together today.”
Stevenson’s Rachel Morrow took second place in the 100 backstroke last year, but this season she won the gold medal, holding off a strong final burst by Center Line’s Andrea Okuly. “It was my goal to win it this year,” Morrow said. “The hard work paid off.” She said she saw Okuly coming up on her right. “I saw her. It definitely pushed me to go faster,” Morrow said.
Dakota’s Villerot wasn’t disappointed with the Cougars’ second runner-up finish in a row. “We come so close each year, but our girls swam incredible today,” she said. “Ninety percent of them had personal best times. How can you be upset about that? “We had three county records and four pool records. It was a great day. We had a few surprises. Sophomore Erin Cook came on really strong in the 100 fly and 100 back. Hannah Scruggs and Annmarie Eovaldi swam well, too. “The team is having fun. We’re all walking away with a smile on our face.”
Schultz said that getting off to a good start was the key to L’Anse Creuse’s third-place finish. “It starts with the medley relay,” he said. “I thought we’d go around 2:01 and we went 1:58. When you start a meet swimming that fast, it can continue the entire meet. The medley relay always sets the pace.”