Farmington HillsAugust 29, 2012
New season offers Mercy swim chance for sixth consecutive state title
By Mike Moore
C & G Staff Writer
Girls on the Mercy swim team take a break from an Aug. 22 practice for a bit of a laugh. There’s no joking about the dominance the Marlins have displayed the past few years, though. The girls are five-time defending state champs.
FARMINGTON HILLS — Their success is as impressive as it is profound.
Dominance, from one year to the next.
Champions, from one division to the next.
Disbelief in such achievement would be understandable if it weren’t for the banners of proof hanging on the side wall of the Farmington Hills Mercy natatorium.
The first banner celebrates a Division 2 state title in 2007. The next three bear the same words, but with the years 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively.
The one from 2011 heralds a state title in Division 1.
“I’m fortunate to get the type of swimmers we get, girls that have worked real hard their whole life,” coach Shannon Dunworth said while watching over an Aug. 22 practice. “They come here wanting to know more success. This isn’t the biggest pool, and we have to divide up practices to make sure everyone gets their work in, but they come here to work for it.”
For many of them, like senior Annie Valentine, success is all they’ve known.
Now in her fourth year with the team and considered one of the strongest swimmers on the roster by Dunworth, Valentine has grabbed three state titles in her career.
Yet as she speaks about 2012 and the possibility of a fourth in a row for herself and sixth for the team, her maturity shines through.
“It’s a new year, with new girls and new competition,” Valentine said. “We’re very talented, and there’s a lot of hard-working girls here, but we know the challenges are out there. … When every season starts, coach asks us how many events we’ve won. And right now, we haven’t won anything.”
Her approach to the season transcends throughout the whole team.
“The main focus is on this year,” sophomore Maddy Loniewski said. “That’s all that matters with this team.”
And “this team,” as Dunworth stressed, is different than last year’s, or any other that’s come before. Nine girls graduated from last season’s champion team, and 22 are brand-new to the roster.
“That’s why we really don’t talk too much about the past,” Dunworth said. “We have 14 girls that competed in the state meet back with us, but our focus is on this practice, what we’re doing right now. There’s so much competition here. The girls know that just because they had a spot in a certain event last year doesn’t guarantee anything for this year.”
It’s a humbling fact that seems to breed competition, which in turn pushes individuals and strengthens the team as a whole.
And it’s worked.
“We find ways to keep things fresh,” Dunworth added. “I mean, you’d never want winning a state title or a league title or whatever to be average. But when you do those things enough, it becomes average. It becomes what’s expected of you all the time. And the girls understand what’s expected here. They’re growing up and figuring out the little things you need to do to take that next step.”
The biggest problem may be finding room for more banners.