Houghton, Westwood girls, Sault boys dominate on Day 1 of MHSAA U.P. Swimming and Diving Championships

MARQUETTE – Three Houghton girls divers and their coach have a real mutual admiration society.

Senior Alina Ryynanen, junior Emily Fisher and sophomore Lauren Jackson all finished in the top five at the Upper Peninsula Diving Finals on Friday held at Marquette Senior High School.

They gave lots of credit to Gremlins diving coach Freya Carmen Moran, and in turn, the 2008 graduate of Marquette Senior High School heaped praise on this trio.

“To have three girls in the top five at the (U.P.) Finals is amazing. We haven’t even had three girls diving at our school in many years,” Moran said. “They’re unbelievably hard workers, and all they talk about is teamwork.”

But first-year diver Jackson gave her coach all the credit.

“She can make anybody into a good diver,” said Jackson, who finished in fourth place with 137.10 points.

“We all love her to death,” said Ryynanen, the meet runner-up with 148.40, not quite 17 points behind meet winner Mya Maanika of Westwood.

Fisher, also a first-year diver, said she had an interesting transition from gymnastics after suffering a number of nagging injuries in the latter sport.

“I looked around and I thought diving would be something that I could still use my gymnastics training in,” said Fisher, the fifth-place finisher with 133.50.

Westwood did just as well, with Maanika, a junior, winning with 165.05, junior Gabby French in third with 147.85 and sophomore Cristine Larson seventh with 124.60.

“The U.P. Finals messes with your head so much,” Maanika said. “In a dual meet, by the time your competing it’s just fun.

“But when you know this is the finals, and this is your last chance this season … well, I’ve been in a panic all week.”

While Maanika has been dominant all year, French has been on the comeback trail.

She hit her head on the bottom of the pool in the middle of last year’s U.P. Finals in Sault Ste. Marie, coming to the surface and bleeding profusely.

“I broke my nose and I had a concussion, at least that’s what they tell me,” French said as she has no memory of the incident.

On the boys side, senior Elliot Furr of Sault Ste. Marie won by about 11 1/2 points over Westwood freshman Jesse Olander.

“Last year I was fourth in the finals, but all three of the guys who finished ahead of me graduated,” Furr said.

He admitted to feeling some pressure as the top returnee this year.

“I was shaking the entire time, but maybe it partly because I was cold,” he said.

“The first dive set it up for me. That was a front 1 1/2 somersault. It’s one you can fix in the air if you’re having problems.

“I messed up my fourth dive – and it’s one I do well on, a back somersault – but I got it back on the next dive.”

Olander finished about three-quarters of a point ahead of Marquette senior Grant Rydholm, who was just behind Furr last year.

“I’m competing against myself,” Rydholm said, saying he was moderately satisfied with improving two places this year.

His first-year diving coach, Laura Conway, was thrilled by his finish, though.

“I’m so impressed with Grant’s performance because he had someone new come in and coach him in a totally different way,” she said about herself. “He really stepped up to the challenge.”

Saturday’s tally also got several teams off to good starts for today’s swimming finals. On the girls side, Westwood has 35 points and Houghton 34, the only teams in double digits, while for the boys, Sault Ste. Marie has 37, Marquette 24 and Westwood 13.

Today’s schedule of 22 events starts at 10 a.m. and is set to wrap up around 4 p.m. Admission is $7.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.