By Jon Malavolti
Special to Second Half
ROCHESTER – Holland High girls swimming and diving coach Don Kimble said his squad talked about it all year.
“The second one is harder than the first one,” he said. “The second one, you’ve got a target on your back. Everybody’s looking for you. You sort of swim a little tight – you don’t want to be the one that loses it.”
On top of all that pressure, the Dutch had some other challenges they didn’t have last year while winning their first Lower Peninsula Division 2 title. Last year, Holland lifted the trophy at the nearby Holland Aquatic Center. This year, the Dutch would had to traverse across the state to Oakland University a few hours east, and face some new teams like Ann Arbor Skyline and East Grand Rapids that moved into Division 2 after competing in Division 1 or 3 in 2011.
But Holland wasn’t fazed by any of it, defending its title in convincing fashion.
The Dutch receive a Second Half High 5 this week after winning their second straight MHSAA championship. Prior to last season, they finished runner-up three straight seasons.
This time, they dominated the relays – taking first in all three, while also finishing first in four individual races. Holland grabbed crucial points with a second-place finish and three third-place finishes in the individual events, while its depth rounded things out on the day with nine finishes between ninth and16th.
Holland sophomore Taylor Garcia epitomized the team’s toughness, finishing first in all four races she swam – the 100-yard butterfly, 100 backstroke, 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay – all while dealing with a broken thumb.
“I think it affected my butterfly turns a little bit, and also I was a little tentative on my finishes,” she said. “I’m glad I just got to swim and didn’t need surgery or anything”.
Kimble was impressed with her performance despite the setback that has hampered her the past few weeks.
“She hasn’t been able to train all out,” he said. “To go the times she did today … it’s remarkable.”
Garcia wasn’t the only member of the Dutch proving her resolve on Saturday.
Junior Holly Morren won the 100 freestyle and finished second in the 50 free, while also helping the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams finish first.
Kimble noted how vastly she improved her performance from the preliminaries the day before.
“Holly came back with a vengeance,” he said Saturday. “She was really disappointed where she ended up yesterday, but made the effort today to step up.”
The third Holland team member to take home an individual title is another reason why the Dutch should be favored to three-peat. Cassie Misiewicz, a junior, will look to defend her 500 freestyle title next year, as well as improve on her third-place finish in the 200 free. She also swam on the first-place 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams.
In fact, the Dutch will graduate just one senior who scored points at this year’s Finals – Melissa Vandermeulen, who capped off her career nicely with a pair of third-place finishes in the 500 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, while also swimming on the first-place 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays.
Surely there will be more challenges that pop up in the way of Holland’s title run next year.
But no one should believe the Dutch won’t figure out a way to get it done, again.
PHOTO: Holland swimmer Abi Johns gives a thumbs up after one of her events during Saturday's Division 2 Finals at Oakland University. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)