Big 3 Leads Saline to Championship No. 4

March 9, 2013

By Greg Chrapek
Special for Second Half

HOLLAND – Although they were led by a trio of seniors who each won two individual events, a fourth consecutive MHSAA title was anything but a sure thing for Saline at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final at the Holland Aquatic Center.

Saline’s big three of seniors Adam Whitener, Josh Ehrman and David Boland came up big when they needed, and every point proved valuable as the Hornets edged fellow Division 1 powerhouse Birmingham Brother Rice by three points, 313-309, to claim their fourth consecutive title.

With points at a premium, the Hornets rallied and in the final event finished in fourth place in the 400 freestyle relay to clinch the championship.

“There was a lot of pressure, but I actually enjoy it,” Ehrman said. “We knew we had to go fast in every race, and we had to win. When you are put under that kind of pressure, you know you have to perform.”

Ehrman did his part and then some for the Hornets as he won two individual titles and was part of two relay teams that also won.

Ehrman teamed up with Boland and fellow seniors Michael Bundas and Lucas Allen to start things off in a big way Saturday by winning the 200-yard medley relay in an all-division Finals record time of 1:30.01.

Ehrman also won the 200-yard IM in an all-division Finals record time of 1:47.86 and broke his own all-division record time in the 100-yard breaststroke, winning in 55.31.

His success was something the Hornets were able to count on like clockwork since he joined the team his freshman season.

“Josh is a champion swimmer,” Saline coach Todd Brunty said. “The only races he lost during his high school career were two races his freshman year to a nationally-ranked swimmer.”

The Hornets’ key race Saturday was the ninth, the 200-yard freestyle relay. Ehrman teamed up with Bundas, Whitener and fellow senior Stefan Koberl to capture the championship in 1:23.92, another LP Division 1 meet record.

“When we won the 200-free relay, our guys believed they could do it,” Brunty said. “The door was still open, and that was all we needed was that crack to get through.

“Being a four-time state champion feels pretty good right now. It was a hard-fought win. Brother Rice is a very good team, and to go through the adversity that we did on Friday says a lot about this team. We didn’t have some of our best swims on Friday, and we had about 40 points to make up going into today. But the guys stayed steady and stayed strong, and they were able to overcome that deficit.”

Another key to success for the Hornets was the performance of their divers. Three Saline divers finished among the top 11, giving the team key points needed to erase the deficit.

Senior diver Sam Blair finished second overall to senior Nick Nicoletti of Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern. Nicoletti totaled 442.30 points, while Blair finished with 428.50. Senior Dustin Wall finished sixth in diving for Saline, while freshman Alex Calder placed 11th.

They complemented well the efforts of the trio of senior leaders who amazingly were part of eight of the 12 race championships.

Whitener capped his career at Saline by winning the 200-yard freestyle in 1:38.31 and taking the 100-yard freestyle in 44.65.

Boland also claimed two races and set two new Division 1 meet records in the process. He won the 100-yard backstroke in a record time of 49.75 and captured the 100-yard butterfly in a record time of 48.59. Boland also swam the first leg of the 200-yard medley relay that, in finishing first, set the tone for the day.

“I just wanted to get out and get everybody pumped up,” Boland said. “I wanted to get out and get out as far as I could. I wanted to get everybody pumped up and ready to go.”

Saline senior Michael Bundas added to the medal haul as he won the 50-yard freestyle in 20.96.

“I was really happy for Michael,” Brunty said. “He gave up baseball to focus on his swimming. He loves baseball, and it takes total dedication for someone to do that. He really stepped up for us today.”

Not all of the records at Saturday’s Finals were broken by Saline swimmers. Runner-up Birmingham Brother Rice’s 400-yard freestyle relay team set an all-division record. Senior Patrick Nodland, sophomores Gust Kouvaris and Mark Blinstrub and junior Joe Krause came into the meet seeded fourth, but saved their best for last as they turned in a time of 3:03.78.

“They really stepped up,” Brother Rice coach Mike Venos said. “We have one senior on that relay, and he inspires the team. Patrick Nodland just does a great job of getting everyone inspired and ready to go. I never, ever doubt my swimmers. I know what they are capable of.”

Brother Rice pushed Saline to the limit and carried on the program’s history of excellence. The Warriors have won eight MHSAA team titles since 1994, their most recent in 2007.

Livonia Stevenson junior Nick Arakelian also set a Division 1 meet record en route to winning the 500-yard freestyle. Arakelian, in his first year of high school swimming, won in a time of 4:27.75.

A nationally-ranked club swimmer, Arakelian decided to go out for high school swimming this season, and was more than happy he did.

“Oh I’m very happy I decided to come out,” Arakelian said. “I just decided to try it for a change. It’s a lot of fun, and I like the team atmosphere.”

Arakelian helped Stevenson to a third-place finish as a team as he also took second place in the 200-yard IM and was a part of the 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard free relay teams that also finished second.

“This was an incredible feeling,” Arakelian said. “I’m planning on coming out next year, and I’m very excited about next year.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Saline swimmers celebrate while en route to their fourth-straight MHSAA team title. (Middle) A Saline swimmer races Saturday at Holland Aquatics Center. (Click to see more at

DeWitt's Thomas Blazes Swimming Path with Historic Finals Performance

By Steve Vedder
Special for

April 4, 2024

Aaron Thomas easily could have decided that swimming wasn't going to be part of his life.

Mid-MichiganThe DeWitt senior could've pieced together some combination of his other entertainment interests to fill his time. For instance, he could have spent more time with friends or immersed himself in video games. Or maybe devoted more time to a flirtation with golf or playing trumpet in the school band. Thomas also could have gained a head start on college and his ultimate goal of a degree in biomedical engineering.

Considering the lifetime of challenges he's faced in swimming, those seemed more tenable options.

Instead, Thomas chose the tougher path.

"My life is swimming," he said. "I've been in water so much, I've never looked back."

By "looking back," Thomas means ignoring a disability that would have turned many youngsters away from the pool. He was born without 65 percent of his pointer finger on his left hand and with a thumb that's only about 90-percent intact. The other three fingers stop at the top of the knuckle. As DeWitt coach Brock Delaney explains, much of a swimmer’s success comes from the power of fingers and subsequent strength in the hands – and without that combination, swimmers are at an immediate disadvantage.

But rather than letting those obstacles keep him high and dry, Thomas has excelled and finished this season with a historic first. He qualified for the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals in the 200-yard individual medley and finished 29th and also competed in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition event and topped all divisions with a time of 54.07 seconds. In doing so, Thomas became the first competitor to swim that combination at a Finals meet.

Thomas additionally this winter made DeWitt's Century Club of swimmers who have amassed 100 points in a season for the second time, and he has earned National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (NISCA) Paralympic All-American honors in the 200-yard freestyle (1:56.64), 200 IM (2:08.21), and 500 free (5:11.58). He also competes in Paralympic swimming as part of the Mid-Michigan Aquatics Club.

To some, the quest for those achievements likely would seem a long and difficult path. But to Thomas, it's business as usual. A disability? What disability, offers Thomas, whose ultimate goal is swimming in the 2028 Summer Paralympics in Los Angeles.

"I've always loved swimming," he said. "When I'm in the water, I never worry about anything. I just feel free."

Thomas posted the fastest time across all divisions in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition at this season’s Finals. And Thomas has found a way to even the playing field, Delaney said.

"He's such a hard worker who has made up for a left-hand deficiency," Delaney said. "He's legit, a strong kid who loves to swim. "

But determination can take a swimmer only so far. Delaney said Thomas, classified as an S10 swimmer for Paralympic events, has developed physical strategies to increase his performance. In the backstroke, for instance, Thomas swims with his left hand underwater to help in propulsion. For speed, Thomas tries to keep his body on his "power side."

The rest, Delaney said, is simply heart.

"He moved here from Alma between his eighth grade and freshmen years," he said. "If not our hardest worker, he's in the top three. He's got something not all athletes have."

Thomas said one of the chief reasons he spends so much time around pools is the type of person he finds there. He describes people who combine encouragement and understanding with a will to compete despite any perceived physical shortcomings. What he's learned from them not only explains his swim career, but teaches valuable life lessons as well.

In fact, Thomas' career plans, beginning at Hope College in the fall, include securing a degree in biomedical engineering with an ultimate plan to help build prosthetics.

"Getting to know people in the prosthetic field really interests me," he said. "Swimming and prosthetics have been a nice tie-in with school. Prosthetics ties it all together for me."

Thomas said he can think of only a single instance where he questioned whether he should follow his love of swimming. But that thought quickly passed, and he's thrown himself into the sport ever since.

"I wouldn't trade my disability for the world," he said. "It's given me so many opportunities. The whole club and school thing and getting to the state meet never would have happened.”

Thomas will swim at Hope, and his goal is to qualify for the 200 IM at the Los Angeles Paralympic games. Thomas estimates he's within 15 seconds of qualifying in that meet's long course event.

"It's achievable," he said. "For sure it's doable."

Whether he makes it to Los Angeles or if his swim career quietly winds down, Thomas, who describes himself as competitive, said he still will have gained something for which everyone strives, athlete or not.

"Water has always been a safe spot for me," he said. "I think I've always used it as kind of a break from life. It helps clear my head.

“I've always been taught that you get out of work what you put into it. Work always pays off in the end. I've always remembered that.”

PHOTOS (Top) Aaron Thomas races for the DeWitt swimming & diving team. (Middle) Thomas posted the fastest time across all divisions in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition at this season’s Finals. (Photos provided by the DeWitt swimming & diving program and Thomas family.)