Gremlins swim teams ready for Finals

HOUGHTON — As the Houghton Gremlins swim teams prepare for the U.P. Finals, coach Erik Johnson is both excited for his athletes, and disappointed. He’s excited because his girls have a real shot at winning the event, also several athletes have a chance to set new personal bests just as they have all season.

He is also a bit disappointed because Saturday will the last time he will coach his class of seniors, who are the first group he has coached for all four years of his tenure with the team.

Johnson feels this group has bonded extremely well.

“This is the most close-knit group that I have worked with,” said Johnson. “You might have a bad swim, but everybody is there to pick you up. That is something that we have been stressing all year.”

This year’s team been very special for Johnson in how they have come together as a group. Johnson has been witness to his athletes’ attitudes at various swim meets. It started with junior Wonyoung Choi and spread like a wave through all her teammates.

“Wonyoung was out for a meet, and that was when I saw the switch flip for her and everyone around her,” said Johnson. “Her voice cut through everybody and it just kind of raised everybody.”

One of the swimmers the team has really rallied around throughout the season is junior Leo Wheeler. Wheeler had suffered a very tragic car accident that saw him hospitalized as well. Rather than give up on his dream of swimming, however, Wheeler worked his way back and Johnson has been witness to how his team has rallied around their injured teammate and helped him heal.

He will be competing in the 200-yard freestyle and the 500-yard freestyle.

“Afterwards, when I saw him, I thought we’d be lucky if he got into the pool this year,” said Johnson. “He’s got to be one of the toughest kids on Earth because he’s not only back, but he’s qualified for two events. His 200-free is down to where it was a year ago going into Finals. I am kind of excited to see him swim.”

With as much support as the team gives each other, Johnson would love to have the whole team involved in the U.P. Finals, swimming in all the races they have become so adept at. However, unlike a normal dual meet, in the finals teams can only enter three swimmers, making Johnson’s job that much tougher as he contemplated where to slot his swimmers, given that 12 places score.

“I’ve had about five or six guys qualify in the 200-free, but I can only enter three of them,” said Johnson. “You just have to stack everybody up where you think they will do best.”

Johnson has been happy with the depth of both of his teams this season, as while they may not have the fastest swimmers, but they both have multiple swimmers who can finish strong.

“It’s our depth,” said Johnson when asked about the strength of his team. “It’s not winning a lot of events, it’s taking second and third and depth [places], so that will hopefully carry us through U.P. Finals, since that is what we have.”

Given how strong the Gremlins’ depth is, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the girls win the U.P. title, given that they have beaten most of the teams they will see. The guys could also finish as high as second, depending on how they finish.