Duel in the pool

HOUGHTON – The Houghton and Marquette swim teams each have something the other wants. This weekend, the Gremlins will have to invade Marquette to go get it.

The annual U.P. Finals, which begins with diving today, isn’t just about stars racking up the first-place finishes. With the event scored to 12 places, everyone plays a part in the victory.

“It’s definitely something that the kids keep in mind. There’s a lot of decisions on who swims what so we can have team points,” Houghton coach Roger Woods said. “There’s a lot of other times where times are just as important and places are just as important as simply winning.”

Competition is hottest on the girls’ side, where Houghton has a legitimate shot at ending Marquette’s streak of 11 consecutive U.P. crowns (and its own streak of six consecutive runner-up finishes).

“What I really have taken away from this season is that the girls are so willing to work on improving. They’re asking questions, they’re following up on things, ‘Am I doing this thing right that you’re talking about?'” Woods said.

The teams have seen each other twice this season. In Houghton Jan. 3, Marquette needed to win the last event to outpoint Houghton 97-89.

In December, the teams took part in a four-team meet on the east end with Rudyard and host Sault Ste. Marie and Houghton defeated Marquette 216-169.

Judging from seed times, Houghton would appear to be the favorite in a handful of individual events. Senior Rebecca Jaszczak is defending champion and top seed in the 50-yard freestyle, senior Alina Ryynanen has posted the most diving points this season and sophomore Sophie Witting and junior Annika Wheeler are top two seeds in the 100 butterfly.

Marquette has the top seed time in two individual events and two relays.

One event where those strengths may intersect will be early, the 200 free. Katy Beckstrom of Marquette is top seed, followed by Houghton’s Jill Toorongian, Marquette’s Paige Gilbert and Houghton’s Hannah Gundlach and Colleen Toorongian.

“They’ve proven time and time again they have the talent, they have the swimmers, they have the depth, and it’s up to us to try and challenge them,” Woods said.

Meanwhile, Hancock junior Olivia Rouleau appears set to add to her already-impressive haul of U.P. Finals wins. Rouleau took the 100 breast and 200 IM last year, events she is top-seeded in again this time. She is two-time defending champ in the latter event and 10 seconds ahead of the field.

On the boys’ side, Houghton will have a fight on its hands to retain the title it’s won twice in a row, as Marquette has proven itself to have superior depth thus far this season.

Regardless of how the team competition pans out, Houghton should take home several honors.

Senior James DeClerck is a heavy favorite in the 200 and 500 free, while senior Daniel Shonnard is top seed in the 100 free and the Gremlins should be contenders in all three relays.

“We have such a variety pack in terms of some really experieced talented swimmers, some newer swimmers … It’ll be very interesting to see what we get out of some of the newer swimmers,” Woods said.

The best chance for Hancock points will come from senior Noble Rundman, seeded fourth in the 200 free and sixth in the 100 free.

Swimming competition begins Saturday at 9 a.m. at Marquette Senior High Schoool’s natatorium.