Farmington Hills Mercy swim huddles up before the MHSAA Division 1 State Finals at the Oakland University Aquatic Center Nov. 19.

Farmington Hills Mercy swim huddles up before the MHSAA Division 1 State Finals at the Oakland University Aquatic Center Nov. 19.

Photo provided by the Farmington Hills Mercy swim team

Mercy girls swim went ‘above and beyond’ expectations this year

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Farmington Press | Published December 7, 2022

 Mercy celebrates its fourth-place finish  at the state finals.

Mercy celebrates its fourth-place finish at the state finals.

Photo provided by the Farmington Hills Mercy swim team


FARMINGTON HILLS — Farmington Hills Mercy has held a legacy of success in girls swimming with seven state championships in school history, but it was up to its young core this season to prove that Mercy was still a force to be reckoned with.

Mercy is only three years removed from its three-straight state titles from 2017-2019, but it was hard to say what the 2022 Mercy team would emerge as.

With preliminary rankings having Mercy just inside the top-10 at the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 State Championship, Mercy coach Michael Venos said his team performed beyond expectations.

“I’m beyond thrilled, to be honest with you,” Venos said. “We were, on paper, supposed to be tied for eighth or ninth, and we ended up walking home with a trophy; that was a perfect way to end the season.”

On Nov. 19 at Oakland University’s Aquatic Center, Mercy took fourth place in a field of 36 teams behind senior Sydney Derkevorkian, junior Amylia Higgins, and sophomores Kathleen Schwab and Mackenzie Conway.

The four teamed up to earn fifth in the 400-yard freestyle relay, while Derkevorkian, Higgins, Conway and junior Olivia Engquist took fourth in the 200-yard medley relay.

Derkevorkian led by example for the young squad, finishing sixth in the 200-yard freestyle and fifth in the 100-yard backstroke.

The underclassmen made a statement at the state finals for Mercy as Higgins took fourth and fifth in the 500- and 200-yard freestyles, respectively.

A key returner for Mercy next season, Venos said Higgins’ work ethic is what separates her from the rest.

“She’s quite possibly one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching,” Venos said.

Schwab, who earned fourth in the 100-yard butterfly, was a sophomore sensation for Mercy this season.

Venos said the young swimmer’s offseason practice helped her go above and beyond expectations this season.

“She dedicated herself in the offseason, and her potential is still unbelievable for what this kid is capable of doing,” Venos said. “As far as progression goes, easily the biggest jump.”

A strong senior class can make all the difference for a young core, especially with as strong of a culture as Mercy possesses.

Venos said his senior leaders, Derkevorkian, Grace Roberts, Elizabeth Bayer and Alexis Conway, made a significant impact on the strong sophomore and junior class.

“It’s one thing to hear about the tradition and the responsibilities from me, but it sinks in a lot more when it’s from your seniors,” Venos said. “The minute they walk into the door, they hear about what it means to be at Mercy; I turn it over to the seniors, and they bring these girls together and talk about the meaning in and out of the water.”

After Mercy finished seventh last year at the state finals, the team came into the season with a new mindset.

Derkevorkian said the team emphasized one major area in order to improve on last year’s placement.

“I just think this season was really, really good. We grew as a team,” Derkevorkian said. “We understood what it meant to swim for Mercy instead of ourselves.”

There was an extra element of appreciation for the school and its history this year, as Mercy celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first girls swim state championship. Mercy was the first girls team to win a state championship.

“That’s something they took a lot of pride in, and they don’t want to let the alumni down. They want the community to be proud,” Venos said.

Mercy’s family-oriented culture has been at the forefront of the team’s success, but arguably the biggest impact happens outside the pool.

As Higgins prepared for the state finals, she said, the Mercy family gave her an added confidence boost before the state finals.

“Before states, we were getting texts and texts from alumni that have swam with us, wishing us luck before states,” Higgins said.

Higgins will look to be the senior leader for Mercy next season as they not only chase for their first state title since 2019, but also continue their streak of 31-straight league championships.

Higgins will have to do it without her best friend and training partner, Derkevorkian, who will swim collegiately for Denison University next year.

“I can’t even begin to describe it. I’ve grown up with Sydney since I was 7 years old, so she’s like the best big sister to me,” Higgins said. “I hope I can live up to how Sydney was as a leader, but it’s crazy to think that I’ll be the oldest next year.”