HOUGHTON - The Houghton boys may be undefeated and defending U.P. champions, but they'll face some resistance this weekend at U.P. Finals - whether they perform the traditional shavedown or not.
The Gremlins must defend their title, the first in school history, in the home tank of their chief competition, as the event moved to the other side of the peninsula in Sault Ste. Marie this year.
Also, the depth that served Houghton so well in last year's meet may not be a factor in its favor this time around.
Houghton’s Stuart Rosemurgy swims far ahead of the field in the 100-yard breaststroke during a meet against Kingsford Feb. 2 at Houghton High School. Rosemurgy is the defending champion and top seed in the event at U.P. Finals Saturday. Classmates Connor Colling and Katie Naber cheer him on from the pool deck. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
Houghton coach Roger Woods has emphasized two P's this week: points (going to the top 12 finishers in each event) and podiums (for the six places on the victory stand). And to get there?
"It's executing the plan," Woods said. "Everybody has known for about two weeks what they're going to be doing. They're practicing more specific things," he said.
The travel is daunting but not something Woods was particularly concerned about.
"Our kids typically actually do fine on the bus," he said. "In some ways, it's more energizing than tiring to them."
Houghton leaves Friday for the Eastern U.P. Diving will take place that day, with the swimming portion to begin the following morning.
Seed times released Wednesday show that the Houghton boys still have a lot of top end strength, with No. 1s in eight events, including all three relays.
In particular, Houghton has two defending individual champs, Jared Cadwell in the 100-yard backstroke and Stuart Rosemurgy in the 100 breast, who are top seeds and strong favorites to repeat.
James DeClerck has the best seed time by 14 seconds in the 500 free and six seconds in the 200 individual medley.
The 500 free also has Jeffers' highest male qualifier: No. 5 Noble Rundman.
The Jets are bringing three boys and four girls to Sault Ste. Marie.
"Most of our goals are individual goals, because of our small numbers this year," coach Sheri Normand said.
The Jets have lots to look forward to on the girls' side, where Olivia Rouleau is a heavy favorite to defend her crown in the 200 IM and is also top seed by more than three seconds in the 100 breast.
"I look for her to have a strong day and hopefully meet her personal goals time-wise that she's set for herself," Normand said.
Linnea Halonen is also seeded eighth in the 200 free for the Jets.
The Houghton girls will be attempting to interrupt a Marquette dynasty that has spanned 10 straight wins.
The Redettes are more beatable than they've been in the past, but Houghton will need to break some new ground to catch up.
"We've going to have to win some relays," Woods said.
Marquette swept the relays last year in Houghton and won by 150 points.
Houghton freshman Hannah Gundlach is the top seed in the 500 free by nearly six seconds, while Jill Toorongian will be looking to defend her crown in the 100 free against strong competition from Rudyard's Carrie Berkompas and Marquette's Katy Beckstrom.
Rebecca Jaszczak is seeded second in the 50 free and 100 back, leading a pack chasing two-time U.P. champ Sarah Tresedder of GRIMN.
"We've got to find a balance between calm and collected and excited, not to be too nervous, but to be nervous enough," Woods said. "I told them during these last two weeks, they shouldn't be nervous. That's my job."