Dexter Builds Lead, Carries it to D2 Title

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 12, 2016

UNIVERSITY CENTER – Mike McHugh was floating on his back in the Saginaw Valley State University pool Saturday afternoon, water soaking his clothes and a smile covering his face.

The Dexter coach, who had spent the previous four hours wearing out his shoes walking the pool’s deck, could now relax as his Dreadnaughts had won the Lower Peninsula Division 2 boys swimming and diving championship.

“It was the best swim I’ve ever had,” said McHugh, who also led Dexter to an MHSAA title in 2012 and a runner-up finish in 2014. “These guys work. I’m thankful for all the work they put in. I’m thankful for all the support I get from home. It’s a relief. It’s been a lot of pressure being ranked No. 1 all year, so being able to finish it off feels really good.”

Behind championship swims in the 200-yard freestyle and 100 backstroke by senior Rob Zofchak, and 13 total top-eight finishes, Dexter finished with a meet-best 284 points. Warren DeLaSalle was second with 266, two-time reigning champion Birmingham Seaholm was third with 211 and Battle Creek Lakeview was fourth with 205.

“We knew coming in we had to build up a lead,” McHugh said. “DeLaSalle’s really good in the back and breast(stroke). We’re really good in the 200 (freestyle), 500 and (individual medley). We knew we had to go big, and having seven top-eight swims in those three events was huge. I had three seniors make top eight in the 200 free (Zofchak, Matt Bergdolt who was second, and David Merz who was eighth). That’s the leadership we’ve got. Three senior leaders, two of them captains, just doing everything they can.”

Dexter still had work to do in the final race of the meet, although it wasn’t much. If DeLaSalle didn’t win the 400 freestyle relay, all the Dreadnaughts needed to win the meet were to not get disqualified in the race. They finished second, one spot ahead of the Pilots. Fittingly, it was Zofchak who swam the final leg of the relay.

“It’s something special,” Zofchak said. “You feel great. Even though you’re swimming hard, you’re going as hard as you can and you’re really tired, you still feel great. Like, ‘Wow. There’s not much I can do right now to mess this up.’”

The anchor leg capped off a great day in the pool for Zofchak, who won the 200 freestyle in 1 minute, 38.23 seconds, and the 100 backstroke in 49.26 – breaking his own meet record.

“I swam pretty well,” he said. “There’s definitely things I can improve on, and I’ll keep working on those, but in general I’m pretty proud of my swims.”

Zofchak was one of three swimmers to take home two individual titles on the day, joining Grosse Pointe South’s Jacob Montague and Midland Dow’s Nehemiah Mork.

Montague won the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke with LP Division 2 meet records of 1:47.4 and 53.93, respectively. It was the second straight year he’d won MHSAA titles in those events.

As Montague swam to commanding leads in both races, spectators watched in awe, some even counting the number of times he came out of the water in the breaststroke and marveling at how infrequently he did so.

“My freshman year, I only qualified for one event at the state meet and I didn’t even make it to finals,” Montague said. “I never thought that I’d be able to compete at a level like this. These past couple years I’ve given everything I can in the pool, every practice, every day. I just give 100 percent, just trying to get better. When everything pays off in the end, it’s just a great feeling.”

Mork was also a repeat champion in both of his events. He won the 50 freestyle in 20.83 seconds, one hundredth of a second ahead of Seaholm’s Liam Little. Mork won the 100 in 45.43 seconds.

“I could kind of see that (Little) was close to me – I had no idea it was a hundredth of a second close,” Mork said. “I saw him gliding a little bit; that’s when I knew I had to get a good finish, and I touched him out. But then everybody started cheering and I thought, ‘Aw shoot, I lost.’

“Then I looked up and it was a hundredth of a second and I still won, so I’ll take it.”

Also repeating as champion was Seaholm diver Sebastian Fay, who won with 479.4 points. He had a commanding lead coming into the final dives, but didn’t rest on his laurels.

“It puts more (pressure) on me, because diving is a sport where anything can happen,” Fay said. “I try not to let the lead get in my head because then I’ll just relax. With that dive especially, that last dive, I need to go after it, and if I relax I’m going to screw it up.

“So honestly, I felt a little more nervous at the end. My heart was pounding pretty hard, so I had to calm down.”

Seaholm won the 200 and 400 freestyle relays, while DeLaSalle won the 200 medley relay. DeLaSalle’s P.J. Desmet won the 100 butterfly in 51.21, while Rochester Adams’ Graham Miotke won the 500 freestyle in 4:35.64.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Swimmers launch during Saturday’s LP Division 2 Finals at Saginaw Valley State University. (Middle) A diver arches during competition. (Below) Dexter poses with its championship trophy. (Click to see more at

Local Dominance Achieved Again, Dow Sets Sights on Statewide Success

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

January 25, 2023

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.

Bay & ThumbGet 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.

Thomas Bacigalupo, second from left on starting block, prepares to lead off the B heat of the 400 freestyle relay. “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 CostanzoPaul 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 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.)