Cranes Dominate D3 in Record Fashion

March 14, 2015

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.” 

Click for full results.

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

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.)