Finals Preview: Opportunities Abound
March 6, 2014
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
This could be a weekend of changes on the podium at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Swimming and Diving Finals.
After four straight Saline championships, Birmingham Brother Rice is the favorite. Chelsea is ranked No. 1 in Division 3 and seeking its first championship in this sport. Even Division 2 favorite Birmingham Seaholm hasn't won in a couple of years.
See below for team favorites and top individuals to watch at all three meets. Preliminaries are Friday, with championship races and diving Saturday. All three Finals also will be streamed live with subscription on MHSAA.TV.
Click for lineups and seed times for all three meets.
Division 1 at Saginaw Valley State University
Team contenders: Saline won the last four LP Division 1 team championships and set six individual records in the process with an incredible senior class that graduated in the spring. This meet is far more open for the first time in a while. Top-ranked Birmingham Brother Rice has 21 individuals and all three relays seeded to score (among the top 16) in their respective events with seniors Joe Krause Rodolfo Flores and juniors Gust Kouvaris and Mark Blinstrub expected to earn big points. Ann Arbor Pioneer, the last to win Division 1 (in 2009) before Saline and the second-ranked team, has eight individuals and all three relays seeded to score. Third-ranked Livonia Stevenson also should make a run with 10 individual seeds and three relays seeded among the top 16 in their events, including the division’s top distance swimmer (see below).
Tabahn Afrik, Holland West Ottawa junior – Enters this weekend with the top seed times in both the 100-yard freestyle (44.29) and 200 freestyle (1:38.08) after finishing second in both the 100 and 50 at last season’s Finals. Afrik’s seed time in the 100 is only one hundredth of a second from tying the LP Division 1 Finals record for the event.
Nick Arakelian, Livonia Stevenson senior – Holds the top seed times in the 200 individual medley (1:49.30) and 500 freestyle (4:37.40) after swimming the second-fastest IM time in LP Division 1 Finals history last season (1:48.22) and setting the LP Division 1 Finals record in the 500 in 4:27.75. He will need to swim a 1:47.85 to break the All-Finals record in the IM, and should give it a run.
Cameron Craig, Monroe sophomore – Brings into the Finals the fastest seed times in both the backstroke (49.17) and butterfly (49.32), and his backstroke time would best the LP Division 1 Finals record by more than half a second. He finished third in the butterfly and fourth in the backstroke at last season’s Finals.
John Schihl, Bloomfield Hills senior – Finished third in the 50 and second in the breaststroke and swam on two top-two relays at last season’s Division 3 Finals as part of Bloomfield Hills Lahser, which merged with Andover last summer and now swims in Division 1. He’s seeded third in the 100 freestyle and tops in the breaststroke with a time (55.71) that is only fourth tenths of a second off the LP Division 1 Finals record. His 200 medley relay also is seeded first.
Birmingham Brother Rice 400 freestyle relay – Krause, Kouvaris, Blinstrub and sophomore Bobby Powrie enter with a top seed time of 3:07.11 after Kouvaris, Patrick Nodland, Blinstrub and Krause set the all- Finals record in the race last year of 3:03.78.
Division 2 at Eastern Michigan University
Team contenders: Top-ranked Birmingham Seaholm is looking like a solid favorite to regain the Division 2 championship for the first time since 2011. The Maples have 18 individual qualifiers seeded 16th or higher in their respective events, plus the top-seeded team in all three relays and a strong diver. Dexter, the 2012 champion, is ranked No. 2 and enters with 11 qualifiers and three relays seeded to score, plus a top diver as well. Ann Arbor Skyline is ranked No. 3 but has to swim above its seeds in many events to challenge, while No. 4 Jenison has some stars but probably not enough to give Seaholm and Dexter a run.
Enrique Hernandez, Birmingham Seaholm junior – Should be a main point earner as the Maples go for the team title with the third-seeded time in the 200 freestyle (1:43.95) and the second in the 100 (47.16). He also swims on top-seeded 200 and 400 freestyle relays. He finished seventh in the 200 and eighth in 100 in 2013.
Clark Lindsay, Birmingham Groves senior – Finished second in the breaststroke and fifth in the 200 individual medley last season, and enters this weekend with the top breaststroke time by more than a second of 56.38 and fourth-best 200 IM seed time of 1:57.21.
Matt Orringer, Ann Arbor Skyline junior – Looking to improve on a fourth-place finish in the 200 IM and third place in the 500 freestyle at last season’s Finals. Orringer has the top seed time in the IM (1:54.29) and the second-fastest in the 500 (4:43.76) to reigning champion Thomas Rathbun of Holland (see below).
Thomas Rathbun, Holland senior – Led Holland to the team championship last season by winning a pair of individual titles, and returns with the fastest seed times in both of those races – 1:40.38 in the 200 freestyle and 4:34.57 in the 500 freestyle.
John Vann, Battle Creek Lakeview junior – Looking to defend his LP Division 2 championship in the 100 butterfly and enters with the fourth-best seed time in that race (51.82) and sixth-fastest in the 200 freestyle (1:46.23) while also swimming on all three of Lakeview’s qualifying relays.
Will Walker, White Lake Lakeland senior – A versatile swimmer, Walker finished third in the 500 and fourth in the 200 freestyle in LP Division 1 last season. He enters this LP Division 2 Final with the top seed time in the 50 freestyle (21.15) and butterfly (50.40), the latter by more than a second.
Jason Wesseling, Jenison senior – Finished seventh in the 50 freestyle and third in the backstroke in 2013, but enters with the top seed time in the backstroke (50.56) by nearly two seconds and the third seed in the butterfly (51.72) plus as part of two top-three relays. His backstroke time might be in striking distance of Morgan Priestley’s LP Division 2 Finals record 50.04 set in 2008.
Division 3 at Holland Aquatics Center
Team contenders: Chelsea finished fifth last season and is seeking its first MHSAA team championship, and is favored as the top-ranked team entering the Finals. The Bulldogs have 19 individual qualifiers and all three relays seeded to score among the top 16 this weekend. But they’ll have to fend off an impressive group including reigning champion East Grand Rapids, reigning runner-up Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood and 2012 champion St. Joseph. East Grand Rapids has 12 top-16 qualifiers, plus all three of its relays including the top-seeded 200 freestyle team.
David Alday, Chelsea senior – Keys the team favorite after winning championships in the 200 IM and 100 freestyle in 2013. Alday has the fifth seed time in the IM (1:59.07) and the sixth in the 100 (48.84), and swims on all three relays which all are seeded among the top five.
Ben Carter, St. Joseph junior – The LP Division 3 champion in the 50 and 100 freestyles as a freshman in 2012, Carter has the top time of 21.17 in the 50 could threaten that race record. He also has the top seed time in the 100 (47.78).
Parker Cook-Weeks, Holland Christian senior – Another double champion from 2013, Cook-Weeks won titles in the 200 and 500 freestyles last season and also won the 500 as a sophomore. Not surprisingly, he has the top seed times in the 200 (1:39.26) and 500 (4:38.64).
Oliver Smith, Milan senior – Set that 50 freestyle record time in winning last season in 20.92, and enters that race right behind Carter with a seed time of 21.52. He’s also seeded fourth in the 100 freestyle at 48.28 and swims on three relays.
Henry Swett, Marshall junior – The reigning champion is seeking his third straight title and won his third Regional championship last week. He scored 435.65 in winning his first Finals championship and 431.20 in 2013.
PHOTO: Swimmers leave the blocks during a race at last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals.