Worth waiting for: Houghton girls finally end Marquette U.P. Finals streak

MARQUETTE – The Houghton High School girls have waited a long time for this.

Twelve years had passed since the Gremlins had last been crowned Upper Peninsula swimming and diving champions.

They changed that Saturday, ending Marquette’s 11-year championship reign by scoring 339 points.

Marquette was runner-up this time with 319 and third-place Sault Ste. Marie had 155.

“In all the recent history, not only have we had the depth,” Houghton coach Roger Woods said moments after jumping in the pool in celebration with his team. “We also had the top-end talent. We just couldn’t win the relays. Last year, we got swept in the relays. We only won one relay this year, but we were close in the others. I think for our girls this is recognition for the quality of the team, especially our depth.”

The Sault Ste. Marie boys won for the first time in a decade with 258 points. Runner-up Marquette scored 225 and Kingsford edged two-time defending champ Houghton 192-190 for third.

“Our guys had some great swims,” said Woods. “We just didn’t have the numbers. Everybody dropped time. We couldn’t be more pleased, especially with the number of school records we broke.”

Houghton senior James DeClerck won the 200-yard freestyle race in a school-record one minute, 52.52 seconds and copped the 500 (5:08.3).

“I was really pumped this morning, just zoned in preparing for the races,” said DeClerck, who hopes to swim in college. “I’m happy with my times this season. Overall, this is a great meet. I’m very happy to be part of this with all the great swimmers throughout the U.P.”

Kingsford senior Josh Johnson set the pool record in 50 freestyle (22.02) and won the 100 (49.25). Houghton senior Daniel Shonnard was runner-up in each race at 22.75 and 50.38, respectively.

“This season has gone well,” said Johnson, who plans to enroll at Michigan Tech this fall. “Daniel has been pushing me all year. We’re so close and we’re both seniors. It’s not a rivalry. It’s just fun competition.”

Topping Hancock-Jeffers was senior Noble Rundman, who placed fourth in 200 freestyle.

For the Houghton girls, senior Rebecca Jaszczak retained her 50 freestyle championship (25.62), gained her first 100 backstroke crown (1:07.14) and helped the Gremlins open with a victory in the 200 medley relay and place second in the 400 freestyle relay.

“I’m real happy with that,” said Jaszczak. “Coming in here as a defending champion in 50 freestyle was a great motivator. I was runner-up in 100 freestyle last year. I kind of knew the opportunity was there for me to win it this year. But after I did win it, everything seemed kind of surreal at first. All the hard work and focus this season has paid off. Also, our coach is phenomenal. He has a passion for everything he does. His positive thinking rubs off on all of us. I’m also proud of our team. We all worked real hard for this.”

Sophomore Hannah Gundlach, also part of the Gremlins’ 400 relay, added a first in 500 freestyle (5:40.210 and a second in 200 freestyle (2:08.79).

“Hannah knows how to swim in a big meet,” said Woods. “When I saw her take off out of the gates in the 200, I knew she was going to have a good day.”

Also winning for Houghton was sophomore Sophie Witting in 100 butterfly (1:09.32). Witting also helped the Gremlins win the 200 medley relay and take second in the 200 freestyle relay.

Hancock-Jeffers junior Olivia Rouleau earned her third consecutive 200 individual medley championship (2:24.43), but yielded her 100 breaststroke title to Marquette senior Katy Beckstrom.

Beckstrom was clocked at 1:12.37 in 100 breaststroke and Rouleau was runner-up this time (1:13.41).

“The key in the individual medley was my opening,” said Rouleau. “I got off to a pretty good start. I find that the butterfly is my best leg of the race. It’s definitely a challenging race. Also, there’s a lot of strong swimmers here this year. They worked hard to get where they are.”

Also placing for Hancock-Jeffers was freshman Hannah Heikkinen, who took sixth in 200 freestyle.

“Overall, our kids did very well,” said Hancock-Jeffers coach Joanne Rouleau. “They’ve been dropping times in the individual races. We’re hoping this will be a building block for next season. Hopefully, this will encourage more kids to come out next season.”