By Victor Skinner
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Catholic/North Muskegon girls swim team is starting to make big waves.
The swimmers are having a banner season, shattering numerous team and personal records as they work their way toward the state finals.
And the fact that the athletes are doing so well, coming from two different schools, is notable in and of itself.
Of course high school sports teams are traditionally comprised of kids from one school, who grow up together and compete side-by-side for years.
There are other varsity co-op situations in the Muskegon area – where individual athletes who attend a school without a certain sport compete for other schools – but it doesn’t happen often.
When you talk about two local high schools in the same breath, you’re usually talking about rivalries.
But the girls on the MCC/North Muskegon swim team report no issues at all.
They are obviously bound together by their love for a common sport, and the general lack of indoor swimming facilities at area schools. But it’s far more personal than that, according to teammates Kara Komarek of Muskegon Catholic and Lucy Carpenter of North Muskegon.
“I think the commitment of our coach and the fact that we all get along so well” is largely driving the team’s success, Komarek said.
“A lot of times I actually forget they go to another school,” Carpenter added.
The two-school program started small and had limited success for a number of years.
In the early seasons Coach Mick Homan had to recruit girls from both schools just to put together a team. But this year he has 21 swimmers on a squad that’s having a great deal of success, despite a complete lack of school funding or training facilities.
“We started the co-op 10 years ago with one girl and built the team up to what it is now,” said Homan, whose team calls the pool at the Muskegon YMCA its home. “We’ve sort of pulled ourselves out of the cellar.”
On Oct. 10, the two-school swim team set several team and personal records at the 2014 High School Girls Michigan Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association meet at Eastern Michigan University.
Several individuals and relay teams also posted times that qualify them for the state finals next month at Oakland University.
The 200-meter medley relay team of Carpenter, Komarek, Sandra Guldborg and Kelly Stone set a new team record and qualified for the state meet with a time of 1:57.28.
Stone, Komarek, Carpenter and Kyra Pikowitz also qualified in the 200 freestyle relay at 1:46.40.
Carpenter set a new team and personal record in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 1:03.89, and Guldborg did the same in the 100-meter breaststroke with her 1:11.33 mark.
“For us, (the MISCA meet) has always been a good meet to kind of show the kids that their hard work pays off,”Holman said.
The MISCA meet allowed the team to build on the momentum that began at the first event of the season. The MCC/North Muskegon girls finished second in the Division III Coastal Conference Relays, a preseason meet with very tough competition.
“To beat Spring Lake, that’s a pretty big deal to us,” Homan said. “Spring Lake and Manistee have dominated the last 10 years.”
The team’s success isn’t limited to the pool. Homan is also coaching a bunch of terrific student-athletes. The girls have a combined grade point average of 3.84, which ranks in the top 20 among high school swimming teams in the nation, Homan said.
“We also have students doing double duty – a full high school academic load and two to three college courses at the same time,” the coach said. “Some will graduate with a high school diploma and an associates.”
Carpenter, who has repeatedly broken her personal backstroke record this year, said a lot of the team’s success, both academically and in the pool, is the product of Homan’s coaching style.
At the beginning of each season, Homan asks the girls to write three goals for the season, then attaches the goal sheet to their swim bags in a waterproof case.
The note keeps the girls focused on what they’re working for, Carpenter said, and is a prime example of the motivational techniques her coach is known for.
“He writes inspirational phrases on the board before practice every day,” Carpenter said. “I think the little things help a lot to motivate us.”
“In the mornings he trains right alongside us, and I think that shows just how much he cares and enjoys this,” Komarek said.
Homan is simply proud of his swimmers and their growing list of accomplishments.
“Overall, it’s a really strong team and I expect big things from them,” said Homan, who emphasized that a lot of people deserve credit for the team’s success.
Parents have played a major role in raising the team’s $18,000 annual budget, as well as ordering swim suits, t-shirts and numerous other important tasks that are easily overlooked.
“Without them, I couldn’t have this program,” he said.