Dexter Digs Depth, Repeats as D2 Champ

March 11, 2017

By Chip Mundy

Special for Second Half

YPSILANTI – There is more than one way to win an MHSAA Finals swimming & diving championship, and the Dexter boys proved it Saturday afternoon at the Michael H. Jones Natatorium on the campus of Eastern Michigan University.

The Dreadnaughts won the opening race – the 200-yard medley relay – and did not win another en route to their second consecutive Lower Peninsula Division 2 championship. A year ago, Dexter had Rob Zofchak win the 100 and 200 titles, and he combined with fellow senior Matt Bergdolt to lead the way.

“Last year, our top guys were really good,” senior captain Alex Janosi said. “Rob and Matt scored a lot of points for us, and this year everyone was scoring their own points, so it was more of a team effort than last year.”

Indeed. All 11 Dexter swimmers scored points as the Dreadnaughts totaled 284 to edge runner-up Ann Arbor Huron (256.5) and third-place Birmingham Seaholm (195.5). It was the fourth MHSAA championship in boys swimming & diving for Dexter and the first time it won back-to-back.

“We have been a depth team all year,” Dexter coach Michael McHugh said. “We don't have all-stars, but we have a lot of really good guys, and that's what won us the meet this year. Those numbers.”

Dexter started the meet in great shape as juniors Alex Shehab and Sam Krahn, sophomore Niklas Eberly and Janosi teamed up to win the medley in 1 minute, 34.42 seconds.

Janosi said that win and the performance in the prelims Friday set the stage for the championship.

“Coming into states, everyone is a little nervous and guys don't know what they can do,” he said. “So to come out and do well in the first day and then win the first event really showed that all of our training paid off, and we could go for it and have fun and win a championship.”

Despite the opening win, Dexter did not lead from start to finish. Huron made an early move and led by 13.5 points after seven events, but McHugh was not too concerned.

“We knew we had to weather the storm early,” he said. “Our big event is the 500 – it has been for years – and we had five guys score in it. That's kind of where we took over, and we knew we had a shot. As long as we were mistake-free, we would win at that point.”

The 500 freestyle – the eighth event - was the perfect showcase for Dexter's depth. The Dreadnaughts did not have a swimmer finish in the top four, but Janosi was fifth, Mitchell Houghtaling sixth, Andrew Golin seventh, Casey Dolen 10th and Sam Latshaw 13th.

Huron did not score in the event as Dexter erased the 13.5-point deficit and turned it into a 191-153.5 lead that it never relinquished.

Eberly had the best individual meet for Dexter. In addition to swimming on the winning 200 medley relay, he was on the second-place 400 freestyle relay and added second-place finishes in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly. He completed his first season swimming for Dexter after transferring from Pinckney.

He said he felt a little bit of apprehension joining a new team at a new school, but it vanished quickly.

“You always feel that way when you join a team, but this team fits me really well,” Eberly said. “We're like brothers. All of us. I started training with them, and they accepted me right away, and I loved them from day one.”

Janosi is the inspirational leader of the team who also contributes a lot in the water. He swam the last leg in the winning 200 medley relay and the runner-up 400 freestyle relay and added fourth-place finishes in the 200 IM and the 500 freestyle.

But what he brings to the team with his leadership skills might be as important as his swimming.

“He is the heart and soul of this team,” McHugh said. “He gets these guys ready to go each and every day. When they're not working, he's on them. He gets these guys motivated; he gets them focused.”

It is a role embraced by Janosi.

“I really enjoy it,” he said. “I like being a leader on the team. We have a really talented group, but sometimes they're nervous or a little shaky, and I like to keep them going and pump them up because I know they have the talent. It's just great to see all that turn into a state championship.”

Shehab, who swam the opening leg on the winning medley relay, also took fourth in the 100 backstroke and 12th in the IM.

Dexter had Will Blodgett, Stephen Sterlitz, Kevin Kimmel and Dolen take third in the 200 freestyle relay, and each of them scored in other individual events in another showing of its depth.

Blodgett also was 10th in the 200 free and 11th in the 100 free, while Sterlitz took sixth in the 100 butterfly and 13th in the 50 freestyle. Kimmel placed 15th in the 50 freestyle, and Dolen, who was 10th in the 500 freestyle, also was ninth in the 200 freestyle.

Other scorers for Dexter were Krahn – a member of the winning 200 medley – in 10th in the 100 breaststroke, Golin, who was seventh in the 500 freestyle and 11th in the 200 freestyle; and Latshaw, who was 12th in the 100 backstroke and 13th in the 500 freestyle.

It all added up to a convincing MHSAA championship over an impressive Huron team that finished second.

“I'd like to congratulate Huron; they had really good swims,” Janosi said. “Their top guys were really good and scored a lot of points, but our depth is what won the championship. Everyone was scoring, and it really added up.”

Huron was led by senior Noah Frassrand, who finally bagged his first individual Finals championship by winning the 100 backstroke in the second-to-last event. He had finished second in the IM and also swam the first leg on the 200 freestyle relay team that finished second.

“It's been one of the most competitive meets I've ever been to, and it's been really exciting to race all these people,” he said. “It is always tiring, and it was difficult for me, but racing makes me feel alive. It's what I love to do.

“We had such a great meet, and it was really great to be here.”

It was a great meet despite a few things: No division or meet records were broken, and there were no repeat champions in any event except the 200 freestyle relay, where Birmingham Seaholm had two of its four swimmers back from its winning team from a year ago to finish first in 1:25.74. The foursome featured Michael Arpasi and Ryan Lawrence from last year's winning relay and Joe Girdler and Noah Grout.

In addition to his spot on the 200 freestyle relay team, Lawrence, a senior, won the 50 freestyle (20.55 seconds) and 100 freestyle (44.94). Although he had been on two winning relay teams last year and one this year, the 50 and 100 were his first individual championships. A year ago, he was runner-up in the 100 freestyle.

“It was everything that I have worked for in those four years to finally come to fruition,” he said. “It's just an awesome experience.”

Arpasi, a junior, also had a championship in the 100 butterfly in 50.24 seconds.

Amid the dynamic depth of Dexter and the laurels for Lawrence, a star emerged in Fraser freshman Alexander Capizzo, who at 15 isn't old enough to drive but was old enough to swim to titles in both the IM In 1:50.21 and the 500 freestyle in 4:29.06. He passed defending state champion Graham Miotke of Rochester Adams in the final 50 yards to win the 500.

Capizzo and Miotke were two lanes apart, but that was close enough for Capizzo to keep a close watch on his top opponent, who led most of the way.

“I could see him,” he said. “I just didn't want to lose. I've been racing Graham ever since I was 11 years old, and this is the first time beating him in the 500.”

Capizzo said he did not feel intimidated by his first experience at the Finals meet.

“I just told myself that I belonged here like everyone else,” he said. “It feels amazing. I couldn't ask for more.

“I was definitely very nervous, and they went away as fast as I hit the water. Then I just got in and did what I usually do. That time in the 500 beats my personal best from Friday in prelims by two seconds.”

Battle Creek Lakeview junior Levi Youmans won the 1-meter diving event with 483.25 points to outdistance runner-up Ryan Mullen of Kalamazoo Loy Norrix (452.40) and Chris Kelly of Mattawan (434.25). Youmans had a 17-point lead after Friday's competition.

“That's kind of a lot,” he said of the first-day lead, “so I figured I'd just come out and dig deep and have fun. Me, Ryan and Chris, we had been joking around the whole season saying that we're the best in the state, and that's how it finished out. We didn't know how it would line up. I guess I just wanted it more.”

Youmans had a healthy lead going into his final dive – a back 1.5 somersault with a 1.5 twist. That dive carries a 2.5 degree of difficulty, and he hit it for 50 points.

“Earlier in the season I was hitting that dive, and three meets in a row I did over 60 points, so all I was thinking was to hit it as good as I could and go for the win,” he said. “It's absolutely amazing. The adrenaline rush is still going strong 45 minutes later.”

Other champions included Portage Central sophomore Owen Miller in the 200 freestyle (1:40.30) and Warren DeLaSalle junior Zach Milke in the 100 backstroke (50.40).

However, standing tall above all the individual event champions were the depth-filled Dexter Dreadnaughts with their third team championship in five years.

“These guys are unbelievable and worked their tails off the past two years to accomplish what nobody in Dexter has done before,” said McHugh.

After accepting the championship trophy, McHugh turned to his team and said, “Let's go for a swim, boys.” Coaches and swimmers jumped into the pool, and it sort of allowed McHugh to go full circle in his career.

“This was the first time I swam in this pool since I was in college,” said McHugh, who swam for Bowling Green State University. “My last MAC (Mid-American Conference) meet was right here.”

Now, he has an MHSAA Finals championship in that pool, too.           

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Dexter’s Niklas Eberly approaches the finish during a race at Saturday’s Division 2 Finals. (Middle) A swimmer competes at Eastern Michigan University. (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.)