Finals: Another Star, Another Saline Title

March 10, 2012

YPSILANTI – Saline entered Saturday’s Division 1 Finals at Eastern Michigan University with two swimmers who had combined for six individual MHSAA championships over the past two seasons.

Juniors David Boland and Adam Whitener pushed that total to 10. But the name of junior teammate Josh Ehrman will be the one most stamped in the MHSAA record book for his performances in helping Saline to a third-straight team title.

Ehrman swam a 55.36 in the breaststroke to set an all division/class record, and set another Division 1 record with a preliminary time of 1:49.34 in the individual medley – before losing to teammate Boland in the Final. Ehrman also was a member of two record-setting relays as Saline scored a team total of 326.5 points to edge runner-up Rockford by 92.5.

“It makes me feel really good, but I couldn’t have done it without those guys. I’ve been swimming with David and Adam since I was 9 years old,” Ehrman said. “They’re two of my best friends, and that’s what makes for great competitors. We trained together year-round for seven years, and it makes us all better.

“It bodes well for next year I think. We’ll have some guys we have to replace, but we’ll try to do it.”

Total, Saline had champions in seven of 12 events. Boland, Whitener, Ehrman and senior James Fisher also teamed to break Saline’s own all-division/class record  in the 400-yard freestyle relay with a time of 3:04.26. Ehrman, Boland, senior Tom Walls and junior Michael Bundas opened the meet with a Division 1 record 1:33.95 in the 200 medley relay.

The finish made it tough to believe that Saline did lose a meet this season, to Birmingham Seaholm when some of the Hornets were sick and others didn’t swim their best. But Ehrman said that loss clearly refocused the team – something that should continue to carry over. 

“We’ve got to keep challenging them. They’ve certainly got a lot of improving to do. I think we could swim better than we did today,” Saline coach Todd Brunty said. “I’m going to go back and find a way we can get faster, find out what we’ve got to work on. In the world of swimming, all across the country and the Olympic level – which some of these guys are going to aspire to – there’s a lot of ways we can get better. We’re going to keep trying to do that as a team, and that’s the best part. It’s not just one person.”

The third relay record also fell Saturday. Rockford’s 200 freestyle relay of seniors Nick Dulak, Bryan Wasberg, sophomore Craig Wasberg and senior Eric Chisholm swam a 1:24.34 to crash the mark.

Chisholm said he was disappointed to fall short of setting the meet record in the 50 freestyle, but he still won that race in a time of 20.76. He also finished second to Whitener in the 100 freestyle.

“(My favorite was) probably breaking the record with my team on the 2(00) free relay. We all worked really hard to get it,” Chisholm said. “We’re happy. We all swam well, as best as we could on the given days. That’s all you can do.”

While Saline and Rockford were expected to shine, the most surprising of Saturday’s finishes came from Lansing Legacy senior Blake Howe. Legacy is a co-op team made up of all three Lansing public schools – Everett, Eastern and Sexton – and Howe earned its signature accomplishment by finishing ahead of reigning champion Victor Zhang of Canton to win the 100 backstroke in 50.83 seconds.

That time was only three hundredths off the Division 1 Final record. Howe also finished third in the butterfly.

“ Pulling off that third turn, I saw him and I was that much ahead, and I’m like that was it. This is the last 25 (yards) of my high school career. I’ve got to win,” Howe said. “Coach said when you do your workout, states is where you get your paycheck and you can cash that in. And I cashed it in.”

Click for full Division 1 results. 

Division 2 at Holland Aquatics Center

All season, reigning champion Birmingham Seaholm was ranked No. 1 in Division 2. And all season, Dexter was No. 2.

But despite only one single-event championship – in the 200 freestyle relay – the Dreadnaughts edged Groves 320-298.5 on Saturday, with Seaholm coming in third.

Dexter did post nine top-three finishes to go with the relay win by seniors Mark Brown, John Eber, Nate Kilian and junior Brennan Maisch.

Groves – ranked No. 3 entering the postseason – had champions in five events, led by senior Scott Crosthwaite. He won the 200 freestyle in 139.47 and the 500 in 4:33.26. He also swam on the champion 400 freestyle relay and runner-up 200 freestyle relay.

Click for complete Division 2 results.

Division 3 at Oakland University

St. Joseph was ranked just No. 4 entering the postseason and had never won an MHSAA Final – finishing runner-up in both 1980 and 1968.

But in the closest of this winter’s Finals, the Bears scored 250 points to edge Grand Rapids Christian by five, East Grand Rapids by 22 and Hamilton by 36.5.

St. Joseph got wins in four events, including a pair by freshman Ben Carter in the 100 freestyle (46.67) and the 50 freestyle (21.34). His prelim 50 time of 21.05 set a Division 3 record.

Spring Lake senior Nick Zacek also won two races, the butterfly (51.52) and 200 freestyle (1:41.78).

Click for complete Division 3 results.

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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.)