6 Hundredths Seal West Ottawa Title Win

By Greg Chrapek
Special for Second Half

March 9, 2019

HOLLAND – In a matter of minutes, Holland West Ottawa senior Khadin Soto’s disappointment of placing second in the breaststroke was replaced by the euphoria of clinching his school’s first MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 swimming & diving championship.

Swimming the anchor leg of the 400-yard freestyle relay, Soto touched the wall a mere six hundredths of a second before Detroit Catholic Central’s anchorman, giving West Ottawa the race win and the overall team title – its first in any division in nearly 50 years.

Soto and his relay teammates Jamahl Hogan, Sam Smith and Derek Maas turned in a time of 3:05.84, edging the Catholic Central team of Matthew Kozma, Bennett Loniewski, Mario McDonald and Conor Brownell. The win proved to be the difference maker as the meet came down to the final race with West Ottawa totaling 248 points to edge Detroit Catholic Central’s 240.

“I knew the meet was within a few points, and I knew we had to win that race,” said Soto. “I knew I had to beat the guy next to me and I knew he was really fast. Since I didn’t win the 100 breaststroke like I thought I would, I just kept telling myself that I can’t get caught up in everything else. I just need to do what my teammates need me to do. Just swim like we have been all year. For the last lap I was telling myself I can’t be the one that loses it for everyone.”

That determination paid off as Soto’s finishing kick was enough to give the Panthers the win and wash away Soto’s disappointment.

“I was just super excited,” Soto said. “Before I looked up at the board, I kind of had this feeling that we won. Then just seeing it, I was overwhelmed with emotions. It was like the perfect ending.”   

Soto had little time to prepare for his crucial swim as he placed second in the breaststroke, which took place before the 400-yard relay.

“Khadin was coming out of the breaststroke, so he was coming right off of a swim,” said West Ottawa coach Steve Bowyer. “We were hoping to give him a little bit of a lead. He didn’t have much of a lead, but he battled back there at the end.”

West Ottawa had finished second in 2018, as it just missed its first Finals title since winning three straight in Class B-C-D from 1969-71. Detroit Catholic Central was swimming for its first Finals championship in this sport and came on strong down the stretch.  

“Detroit Catholic Central had an unbelievable meet,” Bowyer said. “They fought really hard today. We had about 14 points on them after prelims. They came back and fought hard today and brought it right down to the last relay. They don’t get any closer than six hundredths of a second. We feel very fortunate to be on the winning end of that relay.”

Soto is part of a memorable senior class that fueled the Panthers’ drive to the title. Derek Maas is the headliner of West Ottawa’s senior class. Along with swimming a leg of the 400 relay and the winning 200 medley relay, Maas also captured a pair of individual titles. Heading to the University of Alabama next season, Maas won the 200 IM and the butterfly. Having talented teammates to train with has been a key to his success.

“It all starts at our practices,” Maas said. “I always have my teammates with me. It’s way easier to train hard with guys around you that are pushing you. It’s awesome to go out like this as a senior, especially with how the season has gone with the team. Winning the state team title was the ultimate goal.”

Maas teamed up with Soto, junior Gavin Temple and his younger brother, freshman Kevin Maas, to win the 200 medley relay. A versatile swimmer whose main event at the college level will be the 200 breaststroke, Maas won the Division 2 title in the 100 backstroke last year.

“Being a versatile swimmer has helped me,” Maas said. “I have three of the four strokes down pretty good.”

Maas was not the lone dual winner at the Finals as Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior Henry Schutte capped his high school career by winning both the 50 and 100 freestyles.

Schutte, who is headed to the University of Virginia to continue his career, won the 50 in 20.46 and captured the 100 in 44.82 seconds.

Schutte closed out his prep career as a six-time Finals champion. Schutte won the 50 and 100 freestyles as both a sophomore and junior. He credited his fellow competitors from around the state for helping him achieve success during his high school career.  

“It’s been a blast,” Schutte said. “The past three or four years it’s been awesome to be a part of such a great group of athletes. My competitors have everything to do with that. We push ourselves to be the best, and it’s such a great atmosphere. I love it.”

Howell junior Hunter Gubeno also finished the day as a dual winner, winning the 200 freestyle in 1:39.63 and capturing the 500 freestyle in 4:31.39.

Ann Arbor Skyline senior diver William Henry Schirmer closed out his career as a three-time champion. Schirmer won this time by almost 100 points as he totaled 514.55.

Schirmer, who will dive at Northwestern University, said he felt little pressure in going for the three-peat this season.

“I came in wanting to have a lot of fun with it,” Schirmer said. “It’s my senior year, and I just relaxed and focused on doing what I know I can do. I wanted to stay consistent and have fun with it. It’s my last time being at the state meet, and it’s a great feeling being here with my teammates.”

A pair of seniors closed out their careers by capturing individual state titles. Birmingham Brother Rice senior Liam McDonnell won the 100-backstroke in a time of 50.19. Northville senior Travis Nitkiewicz won the 100-breaststroke in a time of 55.27.

In the 200-freestyle relay, the Harrison-Farmington team of Tristan Strasberger, Trevor Jones, Jared Visser and Brody Jamieson took first place in a time of 1:25.24.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Holland West Ottawa’s Derek Maas was part of four championships Saturday, two individually and as part of two relays. (Middle) Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central’s Henry Schutte launches from the blocks on the way to winning the 50-yard freestyle. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Local Dominance Achieved Again, Dow Sets Sights on Statewide Success

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

January 25, 2023

Less than 24 hours after its 2021-22 season ended, the Midland Dow boys swimming & diving team had established its goal for the next year.

Bay & ThumbGet back to the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals, and put Dow back among the best swim teams in the state.

“Even at the state meet last year, we were like, ‘Where are we going to be at when we come back here?’” Dow coach Claire Fries said. “It was the day after the state meet last year, we were already in that mode for next year. The boys have worked hard to meet that goal.”

While the Finals are still more than a month away – March 10 and 11 at the Holland Aquatic Center – Dow has already punched several tickets back to the championship meet.

All three Dow relays have met the Finals-qualifying mark, and at least one Dow swimmer has hit the mark in all but one individual event. In some events, multiple Chargers have qualified.

That’s a far cry from a year ago, when nearly all of Dow’s qualifying times were met in the final meets of the season.

“We’ve had our mindset on it all year,” said Dow senior Thomas Bacigalupo. “We’ve been working on it, practicing in the morning three times a week. On a big piece of paper in our office here, it says, ‘We’re going back,’ and we’re going to succeed. We have a saying that when we can see our goals, we have a higher chance of achieving them.”

Bacigalupo is one of six returning Finals qualifiers for Dow, joining his twin brother Tyler, senior Harrison Schuster, juniors Noah Buist and Nathan Velez, and sophomore Eli Soderberg.  

That core made it easy to see why the Chargers were excited well before a single qualifying time had been accomplished.

Thomas Bacigalupo, second from left on starting block, prepares to lead off the B heat of the 400 freestyle relay. “From last year’s team, we had almost everybody come back, and our team is full of depth this year with the freshman class we brought in,” Soderberg said. “We still have all that talent and all that speed. Those expectations, last year, were for all of us just to get to the state meet and qualify top 16 and all of that. Now, this year, we can actually make a run for stuff.”

Qualifying as many swimmers for the Finals as early as they have is a good sign for the Chargers. So is winning their 20th-straight Tri-Cities championship, which they accomplished this past weekend at Saginaw Valley State.

It’s a streak that predates the birth of any current Dow swimmer, and very nearly their coach.

“I think our goal is to keep that streak going as long as we can,” Tyler Bacigalupo said. “It shows the work ethic of all the guys in the past. But we also try to think of it like every regular meet, and just go out there and do our thing.”

For Fries, who is in her fourth year with the program and third as head coach, the Tri-Cities meet is about more than just continuing the streak. 

“It’s more about a celebration of our community here,” she said. “What I stress to the boys is that this is really about representing Dow and the Tri-City community, and being able to compete and race with these kids that you’re with all year round. That’s more of what I put the focus on.”

With their local dominance established again, the Chargers continue to look to establish themselves on a bigger stage, and from what Fries has seen from her swimmers this season, it’s something she thinks they’re capable of accomplishing.

“We have nine seniors on our team, and they definitely are motivated,” she said. “They wanted to show that Dow is a good swim program, and one that should be respected anywhere in the state. Our boys are really motivated to compete with anybody in the state. That drive for competition has really fueled our team and made our team really close.”

Dow has twice been Finals runner-up, in 2006 and 2008 both in LP Division 2. The Chargers felt they had a chance to win it all in 2020, but that meet never happened as it was canceled because of the pandemic. 

Rather than say “what if?” regarding their freshman year, the seniors are looking forward.

“We want to be top five and really put Midland Dow back on the map,” Tyler Bacigalupo said. “That (2020) was our best chance of being on top in states, but we want to put Dow back on the map again. Our tennis team and our hockey team have done it, now we just want to bring some attention to us.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at paulcostanzo3@gmail.com with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Midland Dow’s Noah Buist launches into a race during last season’s LPD2 Finals. (Middle) Thomas Bacigalupo, second from left on starting block, prepares to lead off the B heat of the 400 freestyle relay. (Photos by High School Sports Scene.)