Dexter Makes Good as Favorite in 3-Peat

March 10, 2018

By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half

ROCHESTER – If ever a championship gave the winning team more feelings of relief than exuberance, such was the case for the Dexter boys swimming & diving team Saturday after winning its third straight Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals.

Dexter was a favorite going into the meet at Oakland University, which made coach Mike McHugh uncomfortable.

“It’s never fun being the target,” McHugh said. “But we were able to overcome that and embrace that a little bit.”

Dexter sure did, capturing its third straight title by scoring a meet-best 241.5 points, 21.5 points ahead of runner-up Rochester Adams.

Birmingham Groves was third with a final total of 191, Warren DeLaSalle fourth at 190 and Birmingham Seaholm rounded out the top five with a score of 183.

Leading the way for Dexter was junior Niklas Eberly, who won the 200-yard freestyle in a time of 1:40.16 and the 100 butterfly in 48.83.

Eberly finished runner-up in both events last year and was seeded only fifth in the 200 freestyle, but that didn’t deter him from going a step further than last year in both events.

“Basically, all season long I knew I wasn’t swimming my best,” Eberly said. “Pretty much today and yesterday, I just threw it down.”

Eberly also was the lead swimmer on Dexter’s team that won the 200 freestyle relay in a time of 1:24.95.

The other individual standouts of the meet were Warren DeLaSalle senior Zach Milke and Fraser sophomore Alexander Capizzo.

Milke won the 100 freestyle (44.97) and 100 backstroke (49.63) before finishing off his high school career in grand fashion as the anchor leg of DeLaSalle’s 400 freestyle relay team.

Entering the pool more than a second after the leader, Milke rallied and touched the wall first to give the Pilots the title with a time of 3:07.28.

“I knew it was going to be close, but it was my last meet with the boys and I had to make them proud,” Milke said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better day. In my hotel this morning, I was freaking out. But once I got here in my element, nothing could stop me.”

Capizzo successfully repeated in the 200 individual medley (1:50.42) and 500 freestyle (4:27.48) despite missing a good portion of this season with a broken ankle.

Capizzo also said this was his last high school meet, as he will swim exclusively with his club team during his junior and senior seasons, and that he will always cherish swimming for his high school team the last two years.

“All the people on my swim team were amazing,” Capizzo said. “They cheered me on, I cheered them on and they were always there when I needed them.”

The other individual winners were Birmingham Seaholm senior Michael Arpasi in the 50 freestyle (20.83), Okemos sophomore Hunter Hollenbeck in diving (503.15) and Grosse Pointe South senior Matthew Koueiter in the 100 breaststroke (56.71).

Groves started off the meet by winning the 200 medley relay (1:33.65).

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: Dexter's Clayton Kinnard races during Saturday's LP Division 2 Finals. (Middle) Portage Northern's Marco Pastrana cruises just beneath the water's surface during the backstroke consolation final. (Click for more from

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.)