Record smashers: girls swim & dive takes on States

The record-breaking 200 freestyle relay team (top center: Hutchinson, Hebert, Dameworth, Armstrong) is all smiles on the podium after finishing in 9th place (Photo courtesy of Asst. Coach Samantha Snyder).

The record-breaking 200 freestyle relay team (top center: Hutchinson, Hebert, Dameworth, Armstrong) is all smiles on the podium after finishing in 9th place (Photo courtesy of Asst. Coach Samantha Snyder).

Mallory Armstrong, Managing Editor

The official calls the first swimmers up to the blocks. They take their marks, poised to rocket into the water when the buzzer sounds. And then the loud tone starts the race, and they’re off: the MHSAA Division I State Meet has begun.

Milford was represented at States by seven qualifiers from the Huron Valley United girls swim & dive team: Senior Captain Mallory Armstrong; Junior Karolina Spiewak; Sophomores Elle Dameworth, Mya Hutchinson, Brooke Stec, and Coral Hebert; and Freshman Lola Beer.

The state team qualified for five events. Dameworth competed in the individual 50 and 100 yard freestyles, accompanied by Hebert in the latter. Beer was the only freshman diver in the state to qualify for the D-I meet; and Armstrong, Hutchinson, and Stec filled out spots in the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays. Spiewak was unfortunately unable to compete at the meet due to a personal illness, but was essential in getting the relays to the necessary qualifying times.  The meet consisted of preliminaries and finals, on Nov. 18 & 19. Only the top 16 times in each event continue to finals.

The girls were favored to move forward to the second day of the competition in three events, but shocked spectators twice: by dropping 3.67 seconds in the 400- free relay to move up from the dead last seed to 10th place, and by Beer moving up from 24th seeded in diving to 16th at the end of prelims. This qualified the team to advance to finals in every event but the individual 50 free.

Lone Freshman Lola Beer rockets into 14th place in diving (Photo courtesy of The Oakland Press).

But the girls’ biggest accomplishment by far was shattering the school record in the 200- free relay, which had been held since 2008. For the relay team of Dameworth, Armstrong, Hutchinson, and Hebert, this was each swimmer’s lifelong goal.

The team ended up placing 16th overall, with a score of 36 points (twice as many points and 10 places higher than the psych sheets — meet predictions sent out a few days beforehand — projected). The meet was a smashing success for HVU. How did the team prepare for such achievements?

To get ready for a championship meet, the swimmers have a period of practices geared toward maximizing both speed and rest: the beloved time known as taper. The high-intensity practices combine short distances, maximum-effort sprinting, and long rest intervals that allow the swimmers to maintain their best effort and output and simulate the short bursts of exertion they’ll put out in the meet.

Some girls were also dealing with chronic injuries during this time, and put extra effort into preparing for the meet: “I did two weeks of extra practice with the other girls, but I also heated my muscles, iced them, and stretched constantly to be in the best shape possible,” said Stec. Certain teammates took frigid ice baths after nearly every practice and arrived almost half an hour early to heat and stretch out their strained muscles.

The State team left Milford after their final practice on Thursday, Nov. 17 to head to Oakland University, where the meet was held. One of the most beloved aspects of the State meet is the carpool there and the opportunity to spend the weekend at a hotel with teammates.

Despite the meet being held less than an hour away, the team was fortunate enough to be able to continue that tradition. “My favorite part about travel meets with the team is getting to hang out with my closest friends,” said Hutchinson.

The time spent at the hotel brings the girls closer together and creates a special atmosphere of fun at the meet. Beer agrees, saying, “Swimmers and divers don’t have a lot of time to interact with one another during practice, and travel meets give us time to bond and create memories.”

The girls passed the time outside of the actual meet playing Cards Against Humanity (a team staple), making TikToks with each other, and carb-loading on pasta and bread.

But when Friday morning dawned, it was time to get serious. The State meet is the last chance for athletes to drop time in races and prove they deserve to be competing next to the top athletes in Michigan.

“The teams that are successful put their focus into not just qualifying for the meet, but excelling at it, competing with the very best in the state,” said Head Coach James Schuler. “Coming into this season, the goal was to not just sneak into finals in 16th place, but to really compete with the rest of the teams.”

The HVU state team knew they could truly blow their competitors out of the water, provided each girl brought her “A-game.” They were predicted to advance to finals in the 200 free relay, but wanted to do more than just slip into finals, as Coach Schuler said.

They succeeded: Dameworth entered finals in 13th place, Beer moved up in the diving event by 8 places, and both the 200 and 400 free relay teams entered finals in 10th place.

The highlight of the preliminary day for the girls was breaking the Milford school record in the 200 freestyle relay. The team of Dameworth, Armstrong, Hutchinson, and Hebert broke the 14-year-old record time of 1:39:92 by .20 seconds for a time of 1:39:72.

Since HVU is a combined team with Lakeland, in the 2021 season the girls had seen this goal as no longer attainable. A Milford record can’t be broken if there’s a relay teammate who goes to Lakeland. But when they learned that with a relay team made up of entirely girls from Milford and the IA, the record time would still count, they redoubled their efforts in 2022.

All four girls on the relay have been swimming together since childhood, looking up at the record board since day one of their athletic careers and dreaming of one day having their names proudly displayed as the fastest of the fast.

“…watching the time on the scoreboard go as Coral, the anchor, finished was exhilarating,” said Dameworth. “I wasn’t sure if we had gotten it at first, but when I saw Coach James jumping I knew we had it and it was such a special moment to share with my teammates. Mallory and I hugged, and I remember being so happy we had finally broken it.”

Hutchinson added, “Having my name on the record board had been a huge dream of mine since I started swim, and I know the younger version of me would be so proud.”

Head Coach James Schuler and Asst. Coach Samantha Snyder cheer after seeing the record-breaking time on the scoreboard after the 200 freestyle relay (Photo courtesy of mLIVE).

“That relay record has been a goal since the 2020 season, and the whole season felt like we had the talent, we just needed to put together the race, and doing that gave us great momentum the rest of the prelim session which was really fun and really awesome,” said Schuler. “To be able to go to team dinner on Friday night and know all of our athletes would be competing in Saturday’s finals, and to have the record in the bag and not worry about it was the high point for the coaching staff on a Friday full of them.”

The chain of successes didn’t end at prelims for HVU, though.

On Saturday, Beer dove so well that she moved up an additional two places to finish in 14th. Dameworth dropped her time to a 53.10 in the 100 free to move up to 12th place. The 200 free relay obliterated their own record for a new time of 1:39.15 (almost half a second faster, which in a race where 1st and 16th place were separated by 6.47 seconds, is significant) and placed 9th overall, and the 400 free relay swam its second-best season time to finish in 12th.

The state meet represents all the combined accomplishments of a team from the start to finish of a season. It is a chance to see what the best of each swimmer truly is, to find out exactly what they are capable of.

“To me, states is special because it is such an exciting meet. You get to learn so much at fast meets like that. Also, it is so cool to be able to see the growth from the beginning to the end,” said Dameworth.

Hutchinson and Beer agree, saying, “The amount of work put into the season pays off when you get to go to States,” and “States is so special because you have to earn your spot and work hard to get there.”

With a state team composed of all but two underclassmen, the possibilities are endless for HVU’s state-level future. But for now, they’ll celebrate an epic 2022 season finale.

“To be surrounded by the fastest swimmers and best divers in the state and know that they are your peers competitively is really rewarding; to compete and be among the best,” said Schuler. “…You just have to show up and be fast, there is no other option; and fortunately for us, we are in the business of being fast and in 2022, business was BOOMIN’.”

Sophomore Elle Dameworth leaps from the starting block for her leg of the 400 free relay (Photo courtesy of The Oakland Press).