Boys Swimming and Diving: Finals Primer

March 8, 2012

Swim coaches, more than those for any sport, have an ability to predict how a meet will end long before their athletes take to the water.

If those coaches are right this season, Saline and Birmingham Seaholm will repeat as MHSAA Lower Peninsula Swimming and Diving champions this weekend in Divisions 1 and 2, respectively. And Grand Rapids Christian will win its first MHSAA championship, claiming Division 3.

Eastern Michigan University will host this season’s Division 1 Final, with Division 2 at the Holland Aquatics Center and Division 3 at Oakland University. Preliminaries are Friday and championships will be decided Saturday.

Tickets cost $8, and competition begins at noon both days. Saturday’s championship races will be streamed live at and Click for a full schedule and lists of qualifiers, their seed times and diving orders.

Predictions obviously don’t always come true. But here are some the teams, relays and individuals who could make the biggest waves:

You’ll recognize these contenders

Division 1: Saline and Rockford have remained unchanged in the top two spots of the coaches poll all season long, with Ann Arbor Pioneer and Birmingham Brother Rice taking turns in the third spot. Saline has dominated the last two MHSAA Division 1 championships – with Pioneer as runner-up both times. Rockford is seeking its first title since 2001. The Rams finished third last season.

Division 2: The top four in every coaches poll this season has read 1. Birmingham Seaholm, 2. Dexter, 3. Birmingham Groves, 4. Holland. Seaholm beat Groves by eight and Dexter by 30 last season. Seaholm has 40 swimming cuts (not counting relays) this time; Dexter has 26.

Division 3: Reigning champions Hamilton and East Grand Rapids have alternated winning this division since the MHSAA went from two to three five seasons ago. But Grand Rapids Christian is attempting to break that hold after finishing third, fifth and sixth the last three seasons, respectively. St. Joseph has big points potential from a couple of standouts, but might not have enough throughout the line-up to push the big three.

Pass the baton

Keep an eye on these relays, which all could post significant finishes Saturday:

Saline’s 400-yard freestyle relay: Saline would need to cut 4.53 seconds from its seed time to equal last season’s all-Finals record of 3:04.83. But this season’s top time of 3:09.36 is nearly two seconds better than the field, and seniors James Fisher and juniors David Boland and Adam Whitener all were on that record-setting team in 2011.

Birmingham Groves’ 400 freestyle relay: Groves has swum 3:12.79, 7.16 seconds off its Division 2 record pace from last season. However, seniors Scott Crosthwaite, Noah Zamler and Steven Curry all were on that record setter and are back in the line-up.

Grand Rapids Christian’s 200 freestyle relay: The Eagles will try to win one of the best races of the day in any division. Grand Rapids Christian has posted a top time of 1:27.95. Hamilton set the Division 3 record last season with a 1:26.10 and has a top time this season of 1:28.60. But Hamilton also has three swimmers back from that record-setting relay – seniors Joey DeGood and Ryan Hagen and junior Zach Lepird.

Athletes to Watch

David Boland, Saline junior – He could add fifth and sixth individual MHSAA championships to his list this weekend after winning both the individual medley and butterfly as both a freshman and sophomore. He’s also the Division 1 Final record holder in both races and as part of the 400 relay. His 400 and 200 relays won championships as well last season.

Ben Carter, St. Joseph freshman – The first-year phenom is seeded first in two Division 3 races – the 50 (21.58) and 100 freestyles (47.79), with healthy edges in both. He also will swim on three relays expected to score, including two contenders.

Eric Chisholm, Rockford senior – He’s looking to finish his high school career as the elite sprinter in Division 1. He won the 50 freestyle last season and his top time this winter of 20.59 seconds is a second better than both his winning time last season and the best times from the rest of the field. Chisholm also has the second-fastest 100 freestyle time (46.84) and will swim on three relays expected to contend.

Daniel Gironza, South Lyon senior – Based on Regional score, he’s the heavy Division 1 favorite after finishing seventh at the 2011 Final. Gironza’s score Tuesday of 490.55 was 89 points better than that of any other Division 1 diver.

Jackson Goethe, Midland Dow junior – He’s got the top-seeded Division 2 time in the 50 (21.43) and 100 freestyles (46.82), the latter by more than a second. He’ll swim on all three Dow relays, including two that should be in the running for first.

Matt Hooper, East Grand Rapids junior – The reigning Division 3 breaststroke champion has the top seed time in that race (57.77), which would be good enough to set a Division 3 record. Hooper also is seeded third in the IM (1:58.40) and will swim on two relays – including the reigning champion in the 200 medley.

Brennan LaBar, St. Johns junior – He won the Division 2 diving championship last season and won his Regional on Tuesday with a score of 451.50. But he’ll have to hold off Highland-Milford’s Scott Jessup, also a Regional champion with a score of 461.85.

Ben Martin, Midland Dow junior – His 200 individual medley seed time (1:54.77) is 2.2 seconds better than the rest of the Division 2 field, and his 100 butterfly time of 52.69 is a half-second better than the rest. Like teammate Goethe, he’ll also swim on all three relays.

Christian Mellos, Grosse Pointe North senior – After finishing seventh in the individual medley and fifth in the breaststroke last season, Mellos brings in the top Division 2 seed time in the latter (58.46) and the third-best (1:57.44) in the IM. He’ll also swim on two relays – one expected to contend and the other expected to push for a spot in the top heat.

Aaron Moyer, St. Joseph senior – He’s favored heavily to win his third-straight Division 3 championship in the individual medley and has the top seed time (1:56.54) by nearly two seconds. He’s also the top seed in the butterfly (51.99) and, like teammate Carter, will swim on all three relays.

Seiji Osawa, Ann Arbor Pioneer senior – Looking to go out strong after winning the 500 freestyle as a sophomore, Osawa has Division 1’s top seed time in that race (4:41.14) and the second-fastest in the 200 freestyle (1:42.76). He’ll also swim on two relays expected to contend for a spot in the championship heat.

Henk Plaggemars, Haslett senior – He’s taken over for graduated teammate Chris McLauchlan, who finished Division 3 runner-up last season. Plaggemars won his Regional with a score of 417.90, 16 points better than anyone else in his division. He finished sixth at last season’s Final.

Adam Whitener, Saline junior – He won both the 100 and 200 freestyles at last season’s Division 1 meet. And not surprisingly, he’s posted the lowest seed times in both of those races this winter. Whitener also could finish as part of two winning relays for the second straight season.

Victor Zhang, Canton senior – The reigning champion in the 100 backstroke has Division 1’s fastest seed time in both that race (52.04) and the 200 individual medley (1:51.65). In the latter, he’ll likely compete with reigning champion Boland of Saline. Zhang also will swim on two relays.

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.)