By Dean Holzwarth
Special to Second Half
HOLLAND – The Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood boys swimming and diving team had all the motivation it needed entering Saturday’s MHSAA Division 3 Finals at Holland Aquatic Center.
Last year was still fresh in the minds of the Cranes after a runner-up finish to East Grand Rapids by only four points.
It provided the perfect incentive, and Cranbrook-Kingswood avenged that loss while capturing the program’s first MHSAA title.
The Cranes scored 297 points to win the Finals in a competitive race among a handful of teams.
Chelsea placed runner-up with 273.33 points, while East Grand Rapids (256.83) was third and St. Joseph (197) fourth.
“This carries over from last year with our four-point loss,” Cranbrook-Kingswood coach Karl Hodgson said. “These guys have done nothing but talk about that, and they’ve been thinking about that for basically 12 months. The motivation factor was all probably done on them, and I didn’t have to do a whole lot with that part. But I couldn’t be happier with their performance in the water.”
Cranes co-captain and senior Ben Schneider said the team was determined to improve upon last year and make school history.
“I think we knew from last year that we definitely had what it took to get it, and that was on our minds from the first day of practice and every practice since then,” he said. “We’ve had our eyes on the prize and we finally got it.”
Nate Tattrie, also a senior and co-captain, was thrilled with the team’s push toward a goal that didn’t seem possible a short while ago.
“This feels excellent,” Tattrie said. “Four years ago we would not imagine that we would be here. It’s amazing, and everyone worked really hard over the summer so we knew coming in that we had a good chance.”
The Cranes opened the meet with a win in the 200 medley relay behind the foursome of Mitch Buccalo, Giorgio DeGrosso, Andrew Guan and Frankie Misra.
Buccalo also won the 200 IM with a time of 1:53.43.
“The biggest key was winning the medley,” Hodgson said. “I knew we had a shot at it, and that sort of set the tone for the rest of the day. The rest of it took care of itself, and we knew it was going to be close going in with about four or five teams. All I wanted them to do was swim fast Friday to put us in position today. That’s what we did.”
Chelsea’s finish was the highest in school history. It took third in 1996 and fifth a year ago.
“We did the best we could in prelims and got enough kids in position where they could score,” Chelsea coach Dave Jolly said. “I laid out a formula (Friday) night and the kids bought into it. I knew we had to come ready to go today, and there were a few trials and tribulations. But we came out really successful.”
Jacob Burris won the 1-meter diving event over teammate Joe Smith.
Burris finished with a final score of 452.05, while Smith had a 421. Defending two-time champion Henry Swett of Marshall took third (410.95).
“They brought their “A” game, and success breeds success,” Jolly said. “We just kept clicking and clicking, and at the end we got the first runner-up finish in the history of our program.”
Holland Christian senior Parker Cook-Weeks duplicated his success from a year ago with wins in the 200 and 500 freestyles, both times defeating rival Kurt Swieter of East Grand Rapids. Cook-Weeks clocked a 1:38.95 in the 200 and 4:36.61 in the 500.
“It had to be the most fun thing I’ve ever had in my career,” Cook-Weeks said. “Me and Kurt go back a long time ago, to age group swimming, and it has always been a battle. Defending my title against him was fun, and it was a fun run for my last year here.”
Cook-Weeks has committed to swim at Olivet Nazarene next season.
“There was a lot of pressure on me this year,” Cook-Weeks said. “I had pressure from my school because they wanted me to do good, and I got pressure from my college coaches because they wanted me to do good so I can come in their next year and do my best. It was huge pressure, but I was able to deal with it.”
The biggest buzz from the meet came at the conclusion of the 200 freestyle relay.
East Grand Rapids, Detroit Country Day and Chelsea finished in a three-way tie with identical times of 1:27.08
“I’ve been swimming and coaching for too many years than I would like to admit, but I’ve never ever seen three relays tie it up and then to have 12 individual swims and come out to the hundredth,” Jolly said. “That’s insane, and it was perfect to have those quality of kids all on the stand together. It says a lot about our division. It was a great meet.”
Hodgson thought there was a problem with the clock.
“I thought it was a malfunction on the board,” he said. “I have been coaching high school swimming for about 30 years and that’s a first. It was kind of cool, and the people around me had ever seen it before, too.”
Milan senior Oliver Smith was the lone record-setter at this season's meet, doing so in the 50 freestyle with a time of 20.78.
PHOTOS: (Top) Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood celebrates its first MHSAA team swimming and diving championship. (Middle) Milan's Oliver Smith launches into a record-setting swim in the 50 freestyle. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.
Get 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.
“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 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 email@example.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.)