Cold temps, warm pool: Gremlins look to build off very successful 2017-18 swim season

Jamie Glenn/Daily Mining Gazette Members of the Houghton swim team work on their butterfly stroke during a practice session in the Houghton Pool last week.

HOUGHTON — Last year’s swim season saw one of the most rewarding moments in coach Erik Johnson’s career at Houghton High School. The boys’ team took home a U.P. title. The girls’ team was also strong, finishing third.

This year, the Gremlins will have their work cut out for them as they lost a number of top producers to graduation.

Johnson just wants to see his swimmers improve as the season goes on.

“We’ve got a lot of young swimmers this year, (so) we’ve kind of started out (by going) back to the basics, practice-wise,” he said. “(We are) just working on technique before we really start to pound on some yardage. They’re responding pretty well to it and are all pretty excited.”

The Gremlins coach is still excited to talk about last year’s success, and wants to see his swimmers strive to have some of their own.

“You’re always trying to improve on what you’ve done before, but last year our boys were able to win U.P.’s for the first time since I’ve been coaching, which is pretty exciting,” he said. “They set big goals again this year. They want to try and repeat, which is never easy to do, especially losing a lot of talented seniors like we did.”

Johnson sees this upcoming season not as a rebuilding effort but rather a reload where he will depend on upperclassmen and captains like Sam Olson and Tessa Mayor, Kevin Beaghan and Holton Haataja to lead their teams.

“I’ve tried to tell the kids (that) good teams don’t rebuild, but that’s what we’re trying to do this year, not really focus on our rebuild (but) kind of reload some areas that we need to work on from gaps that we lost from last year,” Johnson said. “We have a really great crew all the way through (with) a lot of really great swimmers.

“Our senior leadership will definitely carry us through. They’ve got a lot of experience. Most of them have been with me for four years now. They have a pretty good understanding of what’s going to be coming and what they can do to help.”

Beaghan and Haataja are half of a four-man 400-relay team that beat Marquette for the first time in three years, sealing the U.P. title in the process.

“Those leaders of our team are kind of what we lean on to show all of our new swimmers how meets work and the expectations that we have of the program,” said Johnson. “Swimming Isn’t just a leisurely sport. It’s something that we take pretty seriously.”

The Gremlins swim team may be younger this year, but they are willing to put in the time and effort needed to be successful because sometimes swimming the extra mile makes all the difference.

“I think why we’ve seen so much success is (because) kids are willing to do what’s best for the team, not necessarily what’s best for them,” Johnson said. “That’s the whole culture that we try to build, it’s a team aspect. What can I do today today to make myself better and, in turn, make my teammates better?

“There are always those opportunities throughout the season, that’s what I hope the kids understand as we continue to build success into this program.”

Johnson is proud of the dedication his swimmers are already showing through their practice habits.

“They are dedicated to what they are doing,” he said. “They’re asking if we can run extra practices and stay after. Those are the things you really look for (because) how your doing is not really your wins (and) losses, but how dedicated you’ve made kids to this sport and this program.”

Houghton will be hosting seven of their 14 meets this season, that familiarity in the venue is a positive for the Gremlins this season.

“In swimming, you know what the water’s going to be like,” he said. “You know how the blocks are. You know how the turns are going to be. I think that will be a big advantage for us this year, but at the end of the day everybody’s got to swim the same distance at every race. You’ve just got to give the best that you can and hope that your result is what your looking for.”

Sports can teach so many valuable lessons, especially at the high school level. Johnson hopes to give his swimmers the tools they need to be successful long after they leave the pool.

“As a coach, (it’s about) what these kids turn out to be after x-amount of years with you,” he said. “When you get a kid for four years on a team, you hope in those four years on a team that they can take those life lessons that they’ve learned. That hard work does get you places. If you try to cut corners you’re not going to see results. That’s very evident in the pool.”

Swim and dive teams like Gladstone, Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie are three big schools that Johnson will be looking out for this season.

“Anytime you swim against Marquette, they’re always really talented and really well coached,” Johnson said. “(The) Gladstone girls, especially last year, are a talented group, so Gladstone, Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie, are three main comparisons that we will have. We’ll see all three before Christmas break this year. It’ll be an early gauge for us to see where we’re at and what we need to work on.”