At the beginning of the swim and dive season, not many prognosticators had Saline winning the SEC and earning a trophy at the state meet.
But that’s exactly what they did.
A couple of weeks after winning the SEC Red meet, Saline went to Holland and took third place at the MHSAA Division 1 meet.
Saline finished fifth last year and lost state champion Maddy Luther to graduation, junior elite freestyle Johanna Jorgenson to a move, and several other key seniors to graduation. That might have been a good reason to tone down expectations. But all those state championship banners hanging on the walls of the Saline swim and dive pool didn’t get there because of toned-down expectations.
“I knew we could do pretty well. I set lofty goals for the program to try and compete for a program every year. I thought we’d be here. I just thought we’d have to do a lot of work to get here,” Brunty said. “And they did the work they had to do and here we are.”
Emma Loveland was happy with the way the team was able to put a cap on her final year.
“We weren’t sure how we were going to do this season but we ended up doing really well,” said Loveland, who took sixth in the breaststroke with a personal-best time. “Everyone really stepped up this season to help us out and get us to where we are now.”
The Hornets almost locked into that third-place finish on day one of the two-day championship - qualifying more athletes than any other school except Mercy and Pioneer - who finished first and second, respectively.
“We did a great job yesterday setting us up for today,” Brunty said. “Even those girls who finished 16th (the last qualifying the spot for day two), got in and moved up and scored more points and we were able to outscore Rockford (fourth place). So it was exciting to set up the meet and then go in and swim tough today.”
Saline opened championship day by taking third in the 200 medley relay. Amelia Hayes, Loveland, Anna Bosinger and Kiersten Russell swam the race in 1:44.49.
Freshman Bella Arbaugh picked up points for the Hornets in event two, the 200 freestyle. Arbaugh shaved nearly two seconds off her time to take 10th in 1:53.94 - a time that was actually eighth-best on the day.
Two Hornets made the podium in the 200 individual medley. Russell, a junior, finished 11th in 2:07.27 - only .08 seconds faster than Hayes, a sophomore, who finished 12th.
One of the highlights of the day came from Megan Mulligan, a senior who has been on the dive team since her freshman year. She’d spent the whole week practicing what would be the last dive of her career - the front two-and-a-half. It’s two full somersaults and then half of another before going into the pool - head-first. It was a dive she hadn’t performed in competition before.
She admitted to being terrified before walking up for the final dive.
“Coming here and seeing all the other girls do it very well, I was honestly very intimidated,” Mulligan said.
She talked to her coach, who told her she wouldn’t ask her to do the dive if she didn’t believe Mulligan could pull it off.
“I got up there and my heart was racing and I was terrified. But as I started walking down the board, I was like ‘You can do it. Just go for it,’” Mulligan said. “And in the air, I honestly didn’t know where I was, but I knew my body knew where I was, my mind knew where I was. And I just did it.”
She performed the dive close to perfectly and zipped into the pool with nary a splash. The score flashed - over 42 points.
“It’s a really good score - especially for my first time completing it. I was definitely happy with it. I came out of the water and everyone was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that was so good.’ And I was, like, ‘Thank you.’ I was still shaking,” Mulligan said.
As a junior, Mulligan qualified for the state meet but didn’t make it out of the opening round. So finishing sixth in the state was satisfying.
“Last year I didn’t make it past the first cut, so it was kind of disappointing. But I knew I had one more year to come back strong and get to where I want to be,” Mulligan said.
And that’s what she did.
Mulligan was one of three Hornets who picked up points for the Hornets in diving. Freshman Alice English was ninth with 338.65 points. Gabriella Richards, a junior, was 12th with 325.1 points. Mulligan finished with 361.2 points. In all, the Hornet divers picked up 27 points. Rockford, who finished with 179.5 points to Saline’s 197.5, had no points in the diving event.
“All of our divers did an outstanding job and helped us score those points to move up,” Saline swim and dive head coach Todd Brunty said.
The Hornets picked up more points in the 100 butterfly. Sophomore Samantha Graden finished sixth in 57.39 and Bosinger, a junior, was eighth in 57.64. Sophomore Allison Ploutz-Snyder was 14th in 59.02.
Arbaugh’s second trip to the podium came in the 500 freestyle. She was 12th in 5:06.74 - more than three seconds better than Friday.
Bosinger, Arbaugh, Loveland and Russell swam well in the 200 freestyle relay - taking 10th in 1:38.21 - taking second in the consolation race by .05 seconds.
In the backstroke, the times were faster on day two. And Russell and Hayes were up to the challenge. Russell, who finished third in 55.83, and Hayes, fourth in 56.09, both improved their time to hold their positions. Sophomore Johanna Ehrman was 12th in 58.12.
Loveland was sixth in the 100 breaststroke, finishing in 1:04.29 - a personal best time.
The Hornets finished the meet with Arbaugh, freshman Megan Socha, Ehrman and Hayes taking sixth in the 400 freestyle relay in 3:34.42.
For seniors like Loveland, the four years in Saline swim and dive were something special.
“It’s been the best time of my life. There’s no team like this team,” Loveland said.
It was hard to notice there weren’t a lot of seniors at the meet for the Hornets. Most of the girls picking up points for Saline were freshmen, sophomores and juniors - which bodes well for next year’s squad.
“We’re ready to come back here and compete for another two or three years,” Brunty said. “We’re going to try to do it forever.”