By David Troppens
Brad Jones has horrible memories of last March when the COVID-19 pandemic created Michigan’s first lockdown.
His varsity boys swim team was preparing to leave to go the Division 2 state meet when Jones, the coach, got some bad news that the meet was being suspended (eventually canceled) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It happened again to him on Sunday. Less than a week before his Fenton varsity girls swim team was going to head to Grand Rapids for the Division 2 girls state meet, the news came from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that another lockdown was starting on Wednesday. The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) followed suit by suspending all athletic activities for three weeks, until Dec. 9.
The Fenton varsity girls state qualifying swimmers are the only fall team among tri-county high school athletes impacted by the lockdown. All other fall sports teams have completed their seasons. All winter sports have already or were expected to start practices during the three-week period.
“Reliving that moment on Sunday was certainly rough for all of us coaches and it was definitely a difficult meeting with girls Monday morning,” Jones said.
“We met at the pool and walked our way through it. These are things are out of our control regardless of our preparation and our dedication to the protocols were supposed to follow. The hardest thing is we followed the rules we were told to do so we could provide a safe environment for the athletes and coaches. To have it canceled this close to the finish line is heartbreaking.”
It’s heartbreaking now, but all is not lost. First off, the Tigers made the best situation out of a bad one they possibly could by hosting their own personal “state” meet Tuesday at Fenton High School. In it, the state qualifiers competed in their events and tried to break personal and pool records. Second, the state swim meet will probably happen sometime this school year, maybe as early as Dec. 23.
The Representative Council of the MHSAA approved today an adjusted schedule to restart and conclude fall tournaments in football, girls volleyball and girls swimming and diving, and also to resume winter sports after the three-week “pause” in activity ordered by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services scheduled to end Dec. 9. All three Lower Peninsula swim finals will be conducted Dec. 22 for diving and Dec. 23 for swimming. This would allow a two-week practice window of all participating swimmers who have met the qualified times in swimming events and all the regional divers who qualified for the state meet.
“It’s not supposed to be over, but it’s supposed to be a pause,” Jones said. “It’s not exactly the way we wanted to see the season end, but … that’s what was talked about Sunday night is having three weeks off and then have the swim meet.”
Tuesday’s event was a great way to honor the squad at least until the official state swim meet probably ends up happening sometime this school year.
Three pool records were recorded at Tuesday’s meet. The first came in the first event and the third one came in the final event. The 200 medley relay team of Gracie Olsen, Abigail Dolliver, Halee Alexander and Delaney Fries posted a time of 1:49.30. That time would’ve earned the fifth-place position at the state meet a year ago, the same spot the Tigers held in the event last year with a time of 1:49.02. The 400 freestyle relay team of Olsen, Sophie Stefanac, Rose Haney and Abigail Dolliver posted a time of 3:36.79. That time also would’ve landed them a fifth-place finish at last year’s state meet, the same position Fenton held last year with a time of 3:36.21.
Olsen broke the pool record in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:50.14. The D2 defending state champion in the event posted a time of 1:48.98 at state a year ago. Her time on Tuesday would’ve earned her the state championship last season as well. She crushed the field by more than two seconds in the event last year. Olsen also swam a time of 56.21 seconds in the 100 butterfly, the event she won her other state title last year.
In other swims the 200 freestyle relay team of Stefanac, Fries, Haney and Dolliver had a time of 1:41.07. Maddie Kazmierski had personal-best performances with times of 1:00.06 in the 100 butterfly and a 5:22.14 in the 500 freestyle. Stefanac also had personal-best times in the 100 freestyle (54.03) and the 100 backstroke (1:00.03). Haney posted a time of 2:18.65 in the 200 individual medley while Abby Carrigan had a time of 1:03.94 in the 100 backstroke. Finally, Sana Saab had a time of 26.08 in the 50 freestyle and Dolliver had a time of 1:09.11 in the 100 breaststroke.