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Posted on Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 5:17 p.m.

Holland claims second consecutive state championship, Skyline finishes second

By Matt Durr

OAKLAND -- Led by Division 2 Swimmer of the Year Taylor Garcia, the Holland High School girls swim and dive team repeated as state champions Saturday at the MHSAA swimming and diving finals held at Oakland University.

“We’ve talked about it all year how the second one is harder than the first one. You got a target on your back, everybody’s looking for you,” Holland head coach Don Kimble said. “Today we just had some kids who swam really well.”

More coverage from Mlive.com: Final Standings

Holland scored 311.5 points as a team, while runner-up Ann Arbor Skyline scored 255.5 to finish in second place. Finishing in second place was an impressive accomplishment for Skyline coach Maureen Isaac.

“Two years ago we were in Division 2 as we were on our way up to Division 1 and we finished seventh. So in just two years to move up to second place is incredible. We had more qualifiers this year than ever before and for us that was one of our big goals,” Isaac said.

More swimming and diving results: Division 1 and Division 3 coverage

Garcia, a sophomore, led Holland with victories in the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke. She was also a member of the winning 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard freestyle relay teams. The four victories made her the clear choice for Swimmer of the Year.

“It was definitely a great thing for us all to experience, especially after last year. To come back and prove that we still have a lot of talent in our program, I think it says a lot about how far we’ve come,” Garcia said. “It’s a very humbling thing, I’m glad that I had my team here to help me accomplish it.”

It was an impressive performance considering she has been swimming with a broken thumb for the past three weeks.

“It’s not a huge problem, I think it affected my butterfly turns a little bit and also I was a little tentative on my finishes because I’m a little scared, but it’s not a huge deal,” Garcia said.

Strong performances in the 50-yard freestyle and 200-yard medley relay helped Holland jump out to an early lead and never look back. After winning the 200-yard medley relay, Holland saw Holly Morren and Melissa Vandermeulen finish in second and third place respectively in the 50-yard freestyle.

As a team, Holland won seven of the 12 events held on Saturday.

The Eagles were paced by Ashleigh Shanley’s championship performances in the 200-yard IM and 100-yard breaststroke.

“It’s completely surreal. I had a little bit of a tough spring and summer, but at the end of the summer I had a good ending to the season. I set really high goals for myself this season and just kept working really hard and I’m so proud of myself for achieving those goals today.”

Skyline freshman Katie Portz turned in an impressive performance in her first state finals appearance, finishing second in the 200-yard freestyle and fourth in the 100-yard freestyle. Portz was the only freshman in the finals for the 100-yard freestyle. “She’s for real, that girl is for real,” Isaac said about Portz. “She just is a huge addition to our team, filled some holes that we had and just came into our team seamlessly this year.”

Dexter finished in 15th place with 47 points while Milan took 22nd scoring 29 points as a team. Milan divers Haley Feeman and Taylor Hoesein finished fourth and fifth respectively.

Skyline swimmers best friends away from the pool, bitter enemies inside of it

It was nothing new to see the backstretch of the 100-yard breastroke come down to a battle of Skyline swimmers Shannon Cowley and champion Shanley.

Last year, when Skyline was a Division 1 team, Shanley edged out her best friend Cowley to claim the state championship. And on Saturday the duo repeated the feat as Shanley barely beat Cowley to the wall finishing in 1:03.22, while Cowley, a junior, finished in 1:03.24.

“If I could wish for anything, I wish they would have tied. They train together beautifully and they support each other,” Isaac said.

The pair have been training partners for years, forming a bond that goes beyond just swimming together.

“You can tell we’re training buddies,” Shanley said with a laugh. “Mojo (coach Isaac) always tells everyone, ‘they’re best friends, but they beat each other up at practice everyday.’ We both want it so badly.”

Saturday marked the last time the duo will swim as teammates at Skyline as Shanley is set to graduate this June.

“Ashleigh is the best training partner I would ever get to ask for,” Cowley said before getting choked up talking about her friend and teammate. “I would not be at this place without her.

“Ashleigh is just the best person ever. She is definitely my best friend outside of swimming and the best competitor.”

Division 2 record set by Walled Lake Western diver

Allie Murphy admitted that her nerves got the best of her during the diving finals. Last year’s runner-up and the 2010 Division 2 champ was looking to make up for last year’s disappointment of not repeating as champion.

“I got really nervous and hit the board on my front twister,” Murphy said. “I had to focus on the next dive and brush it off and realize I was still in the game and I could still do it.”

Not only did Murphy brush off the mistake, she went on to score 442.8 points and in the process claim the Division 2 state diving record which was previously 441.8 points set in 2009.

“I’ve been working hard all season to get state champion, I didn’t know about the record, this is a bonus,” Murphy said.

Murphy, a senior, said she hasn't decided where she will attend college next year, but said she was down to the University of Michigan, Oakland University and Louisville.

Matt Durr covers sports for AnnArbor.com