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A tropical getaway to Houghton/The Red Line

February 24, 2011
By Brandon Veale -

One of the nice things about covering swim meets is that they're a little bit like a working vacation in the tropics. It's about 75 degrees with about 75 percent humidity. Of course, the condensation covering the emergency exit door is a simple indication of the inhospitable climes on the other side of the wall, but with a lawn chair and a little imagination, it could have been Grand Cayman.

I could have worn shorts, but I didn't, and I regret that a little. Then again, this was a big-ticket item, and we don't get those too often, so had it not been for fear of the chlorine, I could have considered tux-and-tails too.

Saturday was a long, hot and humid day, and it was a lot of fun.

I'm not saying that regular season games aren't fun, but when you know that this is 'the big (race) at the end,' the energy just courses through you. Sometimes I found myself involuntarily saying "Ooh, looks like this one's going down to the wire..." and "I think he's gonna catch him..." to no one in particular. When athletic events stop making me blurt out things involuntarily is probably when I will quit this job.

There was a lot of work - more than 250 photos, plus individually tailored stories for Marquette and Iron Mountain's paper, two stories for here and typing all the results, but I swear to you that even mounds of agate (that's what we call the small type the results run in) are still kind of fun when you know they matter.

The folks who put the finals on last weekend knew that it mattered too and deserve credit for an excellent meet full of bells and whistles to make the kids feel special and a staff willing and able to meet my repeated unreasonable demands.

Fact Box

You may have seen a bit of video involving Michigan Tech hockey's trip to Denver making the rounds on the Internet and ESPN and such. Giving up a goal like that is certainly unfortunate, but it was just one goal in a 5-1 defeat. Tech's win the night before will have an impact that will be seen well after Kevin Genoe stops trending on YouTube. Denver now trails North Dakota in the WCHA by exactly two points. Embarassment is temporary. Second place is forever.

Michigan Tech at Minnesota

Now, we know that it can happen. Can a win happen again at Minnesota? The Huskies and Gophers have played several close games in the past. Tech has not been swept at Minnesota since Nov. 2003. However, the trap has already been triggered and Minnesota, in sixth, a single point ahead of seventh-place Colorado College for home-ice advantage in the WCHA playoffs, is not likely to fall for the same plot.

The Verdict: UMn sweep 3-2, 4-2

Wisconsin at St. Cloud State

The Badgers and Huskies are separated by five points and by four places in the league standings. With so many teams to leapfrog, it could be a tough row to hoe for St. Cloud, but a good weekend could put them as high as seventh going into the final weekend and mean a more hospitable trip to Minnesota or Wisconsin, as opposed to Denver or Omaha. Wisconsin is in the lead position, but still needs to take some points to keep the field at bay. The Badgers are winless in their last four and need something to show they're back on track.

The Verdict: UW 2-1 Friday, SCSU 5-3 Saturday

Denver at Nebraska Omaha

The Pioneers wasted their mulligan last week and now must go to Omaha, where the Mavericks are 12-3-1 this year. And the Mavericks aren't just playing for pride. They're three points back of the lead themselves and still have an outside shot for the MacNaughton Cup. So, Denver can shoot from wherever it wants at the Qwest Center, but the MacNaughton Cup is going to be a lot farther than 190 feet from the Denver locker room.

The Verdict: UNO 4-3 Friday, Denver 4-1 Saturday

Minnesota Duluth at Colorado College

The Bulldogs got beat 3-1 Friday in Mankato to fall three points behind in the league title race. A bounce-back win Saturday keeps them in it, but anything less than four points from Colorado Springs probably makes the UNO-UMD series in Duluth next weekend for third place only. CC, which took just a single point at Bemidji State last weekend, needs a win and help to overcome Minnesota for sixth place. Tough call, but mostly because neither team appears to be at its best right now.

The Verdict: UMD 3-1 Friday, CC 5-3 Saturday

Bemidji State at North Dakota

North Dakota has the WCHA lead and is playing the bottom two teams in the standings over the last two weeks of the season. Granted, Bemidji is now unbeaten in five games, but if the twin 5-2 wins the Sioux posted in Bemidji in October are any indication, the Sioux could be coming back to Grand Forks in two weeks with some extra hardware.

The Verdict: ND sweep 5-2, 6-3

Alaska Anchorage vs. Alaska

Unfortunately, UAA gets no points in the league standings this weekend, regardless of how it does in the Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup. The Nanooks are in the same predicament: in the CCHA's two-round playoff system, they're in a home-ice slot by a single point and can fall as low as 10th. So everyone loses a little bit.

The Verdict: UAA sweep 4-2, 3-1

Last week: 4-5-3

For the Season: 97-77-17 (55.2 percent)

Thank you for that (and the Diet Dr. Pepper).

Here's just another handful of sights and sounds from Saturday:

The invention of materials with equal or lesser water resistance than skin (or maybe it was just good taste?) has largely ushered the Speedo brief out of the realm of competitive swimming. I don't miss it. Most of the guys swimming Saturday were wearing tight-fitting shorts that came to the knee. However, after the annual U.P. Finals shave-down, several Houghton men decided to bare most and be brave. Names have been omitted to avoid embarrassment, but even if you didn't get a medal for swimming (and most of them did), the MHSAA should give you something for chutzpah.

I wrote about the boys' 200 free relay because it was readily apparent that this was the decisive blow, the beginning of the end, like Kirk Gibson's home run in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series. In that race, James DeClerck 23.44-second anchor leg was just .1 of a second slower than the winning time in the 50 free, and he needed every fraction of that second, as the top three teams finished within a half-second. Absolutely the day's decisive moment.

I've got to give some credit to the ladies as well. Marquette had a big day, but Marquette is a Class A school with an enrollment nearly three times that of Houghton High.

And when you look at the local swim roster, it's full of young guns - Houghton sophomore Jill Toorongian, who won the 100 free, Houghton sophomore Rebecca Jaszczak, who had a pair of top-three finishes, Jeffers freshman Olivia Rouleau, who won the 200 IM, or freshman Rebecca Haataja, runner-up in the 100 fly.

Finally, if you're not done with your swim fix, the YMCA Killer Whales will be hosting their home meet at HHS this Friday and Saturday. So, if you'd like tropical climes without the pesky problems of sunburn, you know where to go.

Brandon Veale can be reached at



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