Source: Hometown Life
Author: Dan O'Meara
Farmington Hills Mercy begins the 2016 season as the state's No. 1-ranked team in Division 1 girls high school swimming and diving. That's nothing new for either the Marlins or new coach Mike Venos, who also coaches the Birmingham Brother Rice boys team.
The Marlins have won eight state championships — the last six under former coach Shannon Dunworth. Venos has guided the Warriors to four state titles, including the last three in Division 1. Defending state champion Ann Arbor Skyline and runner-up Saline are ranked second and third behind Mercy, which finished third in last year's state meet.
While the Marlins have another team loaded with talent, it's a long ways to late November and the next state meet. "As a coaching staff, we never talk about winning," Venos said. "Our focus is trying to be the best we can be and swimming as fast as we can when it matters. If we're able to do this, we're going to be successful.
"Our first goal is to continue with the most important tradition, and that is swimming fast. To do this, we have to continue to work hard. In the sport of swimming, if you want to go half as fast, you have to work twice as hard. "The expectations are still the same — work hard, stay positive and do it all with class. If we do this, everything will fall into place."
Three of Mercy's top returning swimmers are senior Alaina Skelett and juniors Katie Minnich and Kendall Goit. All three were named to the all-Observer team. Senior Alaina Skellett is a veteran of three state meets and one of Mercy's leading swimmers.
Minnich is a two-time state defending champion in the 100-yard backstroke and was seventh in the 200 individual medley. She and Skellett were members of the medley relay team, which finished first at the state meet. "Katie has the ability to swim many different events at the state meet and be very successful in anything our team needs her to swim," Venos said. "This may or may not include the events she swam in the past. She’s incredibly talented and a great team player."
Skellett was the state runner-up in the 100 butterfly and was third in the backstroke. Goit placed seventh in the 200 freestyle and 10th in the 100 freestyle. Other returning state qualifiers are seniors Jackie Baldus, Emma Noonan and Allison Lobbia, juniors Mya Loniewski and Megan Hutter and sophomores Annette Dombkowski and Francesca Schena.
Senior Jackie Baldus is one of Mercy's most experienced swimmers. Lobbia and Dombkowski, who was sixth in the 500 freestyle, also were on the medley relay team that won the state title. Loniewski finished 13th in the 200 IM. In the freestyle relays, Mercy has three quarters of its 400 team (Goit, Minnich and Skellett) returning after a third-place finish at the state meet. Goit and Dombkowski were on the 200 team that was 11th.
"I think we have the possibility to take quite a few young ladies to the state meet, but we really don’t talk about that at all on deck," Venos said. "I just want the girls to keep their focus on working hard and concentrating on the process of what it will take to swim fast, not on their state cuts."
The Marlins have some good incoming talent, too. Freshmen Kylie Goit, Sarah Puscas, Chloe Pulick, Lindsay Case and Katherine Hutter can swim multiple events and will contribute right away, according to Venos.
Mercy should be good in diving, too. Junior Alexa Rybicki is the Catholic League champion and was 16th in the state. Sophomore Shayna Jankowski was third in the league meet, senior Jenna Mack fourth and senior Bridget Eusebi seventh. The Marlins have five other divers, too. "They have tremendous potential and will no doubt be at their best when we really need them to contribute," Venos said. "They're coming to our morning practices to lift weights with the swimmers and are working very hard."
Mercy will be gunning for its 26th consecutive Catholic League championship and 49th in the last 50 years. It will have competition from rival Birmingham Marian and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, which is eligible to compete for the title this year. In the Division 3 state rankings, Marian is two and BHCK five.
"This adds a completely new dynamic as to how we’re going to approach this meet," Venos said, regarding Cranbrook Kingswood. "We're going to have our hands full this fall. The Catholic League championships are going to be an incredibly fast meet."
In the meantime, the Marlins will be working to get faster and preparing for the league meet Nov. 11-12 at the Livonia Community Recreation Center and the Division 1 state meet Nov. 18-19 at Oakland University.
"We have an extremely deep team this year, and it’s going to be very difficult to break into our lineup," Venos said. "This adds a level of competition at practice that is fantastic to watch. The girls race against the best every day during practice and get better each day. "The whole team is going to benefit from this hard work. The mix of upper- and lower-class talent is one of our strengths that will lead us to a great dual-meet season. We have some holes to fill, however, if we want to be successful as a state-meet team."