East Grand Rapids High School Girls’ Swimming’s Emily Converse and Gabby Higgins Named Athletes of the Week
East Grand Rapids girls' swimming and diving's Emily Converse and Gabby Higgins, who each captured two MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 individual state titles in addition to being on two winning relays in leading the Pioneers to a repeat state championship in Oakland, are this week's Meijer-97.9 WGRD High School Athlete of the Week co-honorees.
Converse, a junior, won the 200-yard freestyle (1 minute, 53.37 seconds) and 500-yard freestyle (5:06.85); and Higgins, a sophomore, won the 50-yard freestyle (23.54 seconds) 100-yard freestyle (51.8 seconds) in competition at Oakland University Aquatic Center on Nov. 21-22. Both were also on the winning 200 freestyle relay, teaming with sophomores Hanna Sanford and Lexus VanHoven to clock 1:34.95 in edging runner-up Hamilton by more than four seconds and break their own state record; and the triumphant 500 freestyle relay, partnering with Sanford and freshman Kennzie Hartmann to clock 3:32.39, edging runner-up Catholic Central by more than five seconds.
Their efforts led East Grand Rapids to the state title at Oakland University Natatorium, with the Pioneers amassing 424½ points to runner-up Catholic Central's 267, Holland Christian's 182, Cranbrook-Kingswood's 158 and Hamilton's 122. The Pioneers claimed their 19th state title in the past 36 years under Coach Milton "Butch" Briggs, who has also won 10 state titles coaching East Grand Rapids' boys' swimming and diving teams.
"They both have a desire to compete," Briggs said of Converse and Higgins. "I wouldn't say they love to race, ... but it's definitely something they aim and get up for. ...
"You can usually tell in the last 25 yards, the last part of race, who's got it. They reach down and find something else. There's gotta be a desire, and they have it."
Briggs said Converse and Higgins are very representative this season of the East Grand Rapids team, which had 49 swimmers and 10 divers with nine seniors on the roster. The Pioneers are fierce competitors when it comes to meets -- particularly the state championships.
Having the experience at state was a motivator and a foundation. For instance, Converse had been second in the 200 freestyle in 2013 and repeated as 500 freestyle state titlist.
"Last year, I went into the (200) finals seeded first and got touched out at the end," Converse told MHSAA's Second Half. "I didn't want history to repeat itself. I was really motivated ...; I was very focused."
Also focused was Higgins.
"After I'd had the best times on Friday (in the preliminaries), I had great expectations for the next day," she said. "We'd all been working so hard. ... We push each other."
Higgins credits the team's success from "a good support system and a super-supportive environment" under Briggs, who has been coaching at East Grand Rapids for 40 years.
It also doesn't hurt that East Grand Rapids finds competition out-of-season through the East Grand Rapids Waves, with several Catholic Central swimmers and divers also in the club.
"It's really great," Higgins said. "We're really good friends, but we like to compete."
That competition extends into academics and other extracurriculars, with Converse and Higgins both being solid and active students. Converse is the daughter of Teresa and Brandon Converse (Brandon is the head coach for East Grand Rapids Aquatics and is an East Grand Rapids High assistant coach); and Higgins is the daughter of Jennifer and Brian Higgins.