Author: Dan O'Meara / John Stormzand
Farmington Hills Mercy will have to be at its best this weekend if it's going to repeat as the Division 1 champion in girls swimming and diving, according to coach Shannon Dunworth.
The Marlins, who have won state titles in six of the past seven years, are expected to face stiff competition from the likes of perennial contenders Saline, Rockford, Holland West Ottawa and Zeeland.
"A lot of good swimmers are going to line up against each other," Dunworth said. "It's going to be a very, very fast meet. That's the way you want it and why we choose to be in Division 1.
"In years past, we definitely plugged some holes in some events. There are no holes in any events this year.
"It's not going to take a big team scoring a lot of points. It's going to take a quality team scoring quality points, and any one of those teams could be that team."
Traditionally, Mercy's depth has been a plus and a factor in its success, and it will have that again with 16 girls qualified to compete and all three relays.
But that never guarantees a championship, and it might not provide the edge it sometimes has for the Marlins.
"We probably have the largest group with regard to the number of swims," Dunworth said. "It'll be tough to find people with a larger number of swims than we have.
"But the people we're trying to beat have an ample number of capable and highly skilled kids. It's not going to be about how many bodies you have there.
"It's about whether or not they're able to step up. We might win the numbers game, but that's not real important."
Mercy senior Roxanne Griffore is the defending champion in the 50-yard freestyle, but she faces a strong field of fellow competitors hoping to take the title away from her.
Other standout swimmers and state-meet veterans include seniors Maddy Loniewski, Kathleen McGee and Michaela Bargardi, junior Ellyse Conn and sophomore Alaina Skellett.
All six scored in two events last year (mostly in championship heats) and will be entered in two again Friday in the prelims at Eastern Michigan University with the hope of advancing to the finals Saturday.
"Senior year is always a reality check," Dunworth said. "When you're a freshman and sophomore, you think it's never going to come and suddenly it's here.
"Certainly, a different emotion comes into play for the swimmers, but you try not to get lost in all of that.
"Most of these kids have a future in the sport after the high school state meet. It'll be very hard to duplicate the experience you can have in high school and especially in the Mercy system.
"The reality is they're going to turn the page on that, but they can't allow it to get in the way of them being at their best."
Junior Katy Kouvaris and sophomore Jackie Baldus also qualified again for the state meet and hope to figure in the 2014 scoring.
They'll be joined by seniors Jensen Pecora and Logan Wilczewski, juniors Caroline Reamer and Erin Judd and a strong freshman group that includes Kendall Goit, Katie Minnich, Addy de Tassanyi and Mya Loniewski.
Mercy's deepest and possibly its strongest event is the backstroke with Skellett, who was sixth last year, Bargardi, Baldus, de Tassanyi, Minnich and Wilczewski among the entries.
The Marlins also have four girls in the 500 freestyle and three each in the IM, 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle and butterfly.
"It's always a guessing game with kids who have options," Dunworth said in regard to multiple qualifiers. "We have to pick where we think their efforts are going to be best served. It's always a guessing game to get that right, but we think we're strong throughout."
Griffore, Loniewski, Skellett and McGee won the 200 freestyle relay last year, but Dunworth hadn't settled on his relay teams at the start of the week.
Loniewski, McGee and Skellett also were part of the fourth-place 400 relay team; Conn and Griffore helped the Marlins to a runner-up finish in the medley.
"We have to figure out how to maximize our points over three relays," said Dunworth, adding Mercy that has capable kids in every one. "Relays play a big part and we'll have to do well to be a player at the end."
The Marlins won their first four state titles (2007-10) during the recent run in Division 2. They were the D1 champion in 2011 and 2013 and the runner-up to West Ottawa in 2012.
"The Division 1 state meet is going to be the fastest one we've had," Dunworth said. "For whoever wins it, it's going to be the quality of the points, because they're going to be hard to come by.
"I know the kids are excited for it. It's going to be a big challenge for everyone there, and we just hope we're in the thick of it."