By Dan Stickradt
Special for Second Half
ROCHESTER HILLS — There was no one denying Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood’s repeat performance Saturday.
No one was even close.
After winning its first boys swimming and diving MHSAA championship in 2014, Cranbrook Kingswood made quite a statement in capturing its second straight Lower Peninsula Division 3 boys swimming and diving title at Oakland University.
Behind an uber-dominating team performance, Cranbrook Kingswood compiled an impressive 430 points and won by 130.5.
“It was a little more difficult this season, a lot more pressure,” said Cranbrook Kingswood coach Karl Hodgson, who has guided the Cranes to four top-five finishes in his stint at the school. “I knew we had a shot coming in, and we were in good position after the prelims. But I never thought we’d do this well. We had some incredible performances. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. Not too many teams have won by that many and scored this many points.”
Since the MHSAA split from two divisions to three for boys swimming in 2008, the previous record for D-3 Finals points was East Grand Rapids’ 373 in 2008. Cranbrook scored 297 points in winning its first MHSAA title in 2014. No other D-3 school has eclipsed the 300-point barrier.
Chelsea finished in the runner-up slot for the second straight year, collecting 299.5 points. East Grand Rapids was third with 248 points, while Hamilton (215), Grand Rapids Christian (124), Milan (111), Detroit Country Day (104), Grand Rapids Catholic Central (94), Tecumseh (90) and Otsego (86) rounded out the top 10 in a field where 29 schools scored.
Cranbrook dominated from start to finish, opening the meet with an LPD3 meet record in the 200-yard medley relay and capping the day with another meet record in the 400 freestyle relay.
On the day, Cranbrook scored in 11 events, captured first places in five, had a runner-up finish, five third-place finishes and a trio of fourth-place finishes to showcase its top-tier talent.
The Cranes also had 14 of 16 competitors score points during their repeat performance.
“We came out and won the first relay, and it kind of amped us up,” admitted senior Frankie Misra. “We kind of (fed) off that energy. We wanted to win it again. We knew we had a strong team coming in, and we had some incredible swims in the prelims. I am so proud of our team — and even prouder today. I don’t think we could have imagined us doing so well.”
Misra, Mitch Buccalo, Andrew Guam and Giorgio DelGrosso joined forces for a 1:33.89 clocking in the 200 medley relay to set the tone. The Cranes continued to pile on the points after that point. Out of 176 total slots, Cranbrook had 27 placers spread over all events.
Buccalo set another LPD3 Finals mark in winning the 200 IM (1:50.55). Andrew Trunsky took first in the 500 freestyle (4:37.12), building a large lead by the midpoint and cruising to a win by nearly 3.5 seconds, while DelGrosso pulled away for a win in the 100 breaststroke (56.58).
Showing a three-second advantage at Friday’s prelims, the unit of Guam, Alessandro Guttilla, Misra and Buccalo put the finishing touches on the team title by winning the meet-ending 400 freestyle relay in 3:06.15, yet another LPD3 meet record.
“I think when us seniors came in, we helped take the program to another level, and now we have so many good swimmers on this team,” Buccalo said. “We trained so hard for this. We were second two years ago, and we won it this year and last year. We’re not just a (tennis and hockey school), yes sir. Our swimming program is very strong.”
East Grand Rapids’ Andy McGregor was in on three victories on the day, touching first in both the 200 freestyle (1:40.96) and 100 freestyle (46.09), while he teamed up with Braden Wiener, Christian Bart and Jack Filion for a meet-record time of 1:26.06 in the 200 freestyle relay.
“It’s pretty special being up there representing our school and coming in here and doing so well,” said MacGregor, who had a slow start in the 200 free only to pull ahead in the final two lengths. He also anchored the winning relay.
“I think the sprinting part is my strength. I always pick it up to finish strong,” added MacGregor.
Chelsea sophomore Joey Mangner won the 50 free (21.27), an event where six competitors broke 22 seconds.
“Last year I was 12th in the 50. I didn’t make it to the fast heat,” said Mangner. “Coming back this year I really wanted to get it, at least try to contend for the title.”
Chelsea’s Joe Smith captured the one-meter diving event (492.95 points), rising up from the second position after Friday’s prelims. The Bulldogs had four of the top 16 finishers in diving, including two of the top three placers.
“I really felt good in the Finals. It was one of my best performances,” Smith said. “I think it’s really special to have four of us from one team place at states in diving. I think it really helped push our team into second place.”
As a team, Chelsea put together another fine outing but still not enough to catch top-ranked Cranbrook. The Bulldogs still placed in the top 10 for the 24th time in 27 seasons.
“They are very good, very deep,” said Chelsea coach Dave Jolly about finishing second to Cranbrook for the second straight season. “We knew we could challenge for second but knew we couldn’t match up with their depth. But I am very pleased with how we competed. We had everyone swim season bests, and we did very well in diving. Having the best diving coach in the state of Michigan (Eric Burris) sure helps. This is the second straight year we had a state champion in diving. Being strong in that event really helped us finish second. We scored (50) points in that event alone.”
Hamilton’s Alec Nyboer repeated in the 100 butterfly, establishing a new LPD3 meet standard with a 49.15 clocking. Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Joey Puglessi won the 100 backstroke (50.45) to round out the winners.
“This was the goal all along,” Nyboer said. “I won it last season, too, and I have been down close to 50 (seconds) all season, so it was nice to go under and get the record. I think it would be sweet to get the all-division record next year. I have about two more seconds more to shave off. A lot of work to do.”
Puglessi earned his second title, pulling away during the last length to win by nearly a second. He also won the backstroke as a freshman in 2013.
“I really tried to challenge in my race and see what I could do,” said Puglessi. “I set some high standards for myself and it seemed to pay off today. It’s nice to see all of the hard work pay off and to represent your school in this way.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Cranbrook Kingswood’s Giorgio DelGrosso moves ahead of the pack during Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. (Middle) Chelsea’s Joe Smith prepares to touch water during one of his title-winning dives. (Below) Hamilton’s Alec Nyboer repeated and set a meet record in the 100 butterfly. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)