For decades, Salem’s girls swimming-and-diving program has been as solid as, well, a rock.
But led by nine state-qualifying athletes, this year’s contingent of Rocks has performed better than any team since 1997.
Earlier this month at Brighton High School, Salem accumulated 664.5 points, which placed it second in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association’s conference meet behind only perennial juggernaut Northville (929).
Salem was a solid second, piling up 80 more points than third-place Novi.
For comprehensive KLAA conference meet results, click here.
The last time the Rocks finished second in their conference was 1997 when, led by legendary coach Chuck Olson, they were runners-up in the old Western Lakes Activities Association.
“We have a really big senior class this year, so our expectations were set on finishing in the top part of the conference and qualifying multiple swimmers and divers for the state meet,” said fourth-year head coach Matt Zavislak.
“We really didn’t know where we stood compared to the rest of the league because you don’t know what the other teams have until the season goes on. But we had some really good meets early on, we beat Brighton in a dual meet and we only lost to Canton by six points after they beat us by 40 last year.
“That’s when the conversation started about us possibly finishing second in the league meet — and we got it done.”
The Rocks have been led by athletes who entered the season with lofty expectations — particularly seniors Claire Hammill, who finished second in state in the 100 butterfly as a freshman and Amelia Pan — and a few whose diligent off-season work has led to out-of-the-blue peak performances.
Out of the blue
“Camila Soto, a senior, had never qualified for the state meet prior to this year, but she started this season with a new level of confidence,” said Zavislak, when asked about his expectations-exceeding swimmers. “She worked incredibly hard and earned two state cuts this year.
“And senior Jil Mueller was more of a sprinter and IM’er before this year, but she told me she’d like to swim distance events this year. Jill finished in the top eight in the 200 and 500 freestyle, so she played a big role in our success.”
Hammill owns the most-compelling backstory of all the Rocks.
Despite her exemplary accolades in the pool, Hammill will be attending Rutgers University beginning next year with a full-ride scholarship to play soccer.
“I started swimming at Colony Swim Club when I was 4 because my two older sisters swam and I kind of did whatever they did,” Hammill reflected.
“I was debating whether to swim in high school, but one of my sisters was a senior captain my freshman year so I decided to swim.
“I fell in love with the people and the program, so I came back every year.”
Hampered by a back injury, Hammill was unable to swim the 100 fly as a junior, which makes this year’s success — both team-wise and individual — even more satisfying.
“The atmosphere day in and day out at practice has been incredibly positive this season — not that it wasn’t in the past,” Hammill said, when asked about the Rocks’ sensational efforts this fall. “This year we’ve focused on making the most of everything we have that day.
“Maybe we weren’t feeling 100% every single day, but we made the most of what we had that day.”
Hammill has high hopes heading into this weekend’s Division 1 state meet.
“I was all-state my freshman and sophomore years, but wasn’t all-state last year,” she said. “So, now that I’m healthy again, I want to get back to where I was my first two years.”
In addition to Hammill, Soto, Mueller and Pan, the Rocks will be represented at the state meet by swimmers Madison Heiden, Reagan Kleinglass and Emrie Gay; and divers Katie Stewart and Anna Barczyk.