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.”
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.
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).
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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.
Get 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.
“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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)