Finals Preview: Ready for Launch

March 7, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

This winter so far has been one of repeat champions – be it all four during last weekend's MHSAA Cheer Finals, or in three of four divisions at the Team Wrestling Finals the week before. 

Only Saline is expected to repeat as winner at an MHSAA Lower Peninsula Swimming and Diving Final this weekend. But the Hornets can become the first since Birmingham Brother Rice in 1998 to win at least four straight LP boys swimming and diving titles. 

See below for team favorites and top individuals to watch at all three of this weekend's meets. Preliminaries are Friday, with championship races and diving Saturday. And if you can't attend, all three Finals will be streamed live on

Click for lineups and seed times for all three meets.

Division 1 at Holland Aquatic Center

Team contenders: Top-ranked Saline will graduate one of the most impressive senior classes we've seen statewide in some time, and they’ll be pushing for a fourth-straight MHSAA title. The Hornets have seven top seeds – including in all three relays – plus three more entries seeded second or third. And that doesn't count senior diver Sam Blair, third last season as the top non-senior in that event at the 2012 D1 Final. Birmingham Brother Rice enters ranked No. 2 and with six entries – including two relays – seeded among the top eight in their respective events.

Saline 200 medley relay: Josh Ehrman, David Boland and Michael Bundas contributed to a Division 1 meet record of 133.95 last season, and those three with Lucas Allen have swum the race in 1:32.58 this winter. They’ll chase the all-division/class record of 1:31.94 set by Birmingham Brother Rice in 1997.

Saline 200 freestyle relay: Ehrman, Bundas, junior Matthew Sieffert and senior Adam Whitener have the top seed time of 1:25.29 and will try to make a run at the record of 1:24.34 set by Rockford a year ago.

Tabahn Afrik, Holland West Ottawa sophomore: He carries top Division 1 seeds in both the 50 freestyle (21.14) and the 100 freestyle (45.94), and is looking to make big jumps in both. He was sixth in the 100 last season and 11th in the 50. 

Nick Arakelian, Livonia Stevenson junior: He’s got the top Division 1 seed times in both the 500 freestyle and 200 individual medley, 4:35.47 and 1:50:63, respectively.

David Boland, Saline senior: He’s won the D1 butterfly title the last two seasons, setting the meet record of 48.95 in 2011, and he’s got the top seed time again of 49.76. He also has the top backstroke seed time in the division, 51.05, which isn't far off the meet record of 50.8 swam in 2004. Boland also won the 200 individual medley last season.

Josh Ehrman, Saline senior: He was the brightest of a number of stars at last season’s Division 1 Final, winning the breaststroke in a D1 record time of 55.36 and also setting the D1 record in the 200 individual medley with a 1:49.34 in the prelim before finishing second in the Final to Boland. Ehrman has the top seed time in the breaststroke of 56.75 and the second best for the 200 IM of 1:51.22.

Adam Whitener, Saline senior: He’s won D1 championships in the 100 and 200 freestyles in each of the last two seasons, and could make it six individual titles for his career. Whitener has the top 200 seed time of 1:42.78, and his 100 seed time of 46.28 is second-fastest in the division.  

Division 2 at Oakland University

Team contenders: Ann Arbor Pioneer moved into this division this winter, which could make things a little tougher to sort out Saturday. Birmingham Seaholm is ranked No. 1 and has 16 entries seeded among the top 16 in their respective events – including two relays and an individual entering with the second-best times. Holland and Pioneer are tied at No. 2 coming in – Holland entering with 17 top-16 seeds including six number ones, and Pioneer with 13 top-16 seeds including two number ones plus a diving contender in senior Tyler Leach.

Holland 200 medley relay: This appears to have the best chance of any relay in Division 2 to set a record. Its best time this season is 1:36.33, and the Division 2 Finals record is 1:35.32, swam in 2008. 

Jackson Goethe, Midland Dow senior: The reigning D2 champion in the 50 freestyle has the third-fastest seed time this winter, 21.59. His seed time of 47.2 in the 100 freestyle is second-fastest; he finished runner-up in that race last season.

Chris Klein, Ann Arbor Pioneer senior: After posting a third-place finish in the breaststroke and a fourth in the individual medley at last season’s Division 1 Final, he’s favored to win both in Division 2 this weekend. His top breaststroke time this winter of 57.43 would approach the meet record of 57.25 swam in 2010, and he also has the top D2 seed time in the IM of 1:51.61. 

Ben Martin, Midland Dow senior: The reigning champion in the 200 individual medley has the third-fastest seed time in D2 this winter of 1:54.37. He also finished seventh in the butterfly last season and has the third-seeded time in that race, 52.29.

Jeremiah Morren, Holland senior: The reigning champion in the 100 freestyle is poised to win both sprints. He has the top seed times in both — 46.77 in the 100 and 21.22 in the 50. He also finished ninth in the 200 freestyle last season. 

Thomas Rathbun, Holland junior: Michigan swimming has been great to Rathbun since he moved from Iowa before this school year. He comes into this weekend with the top D2 seed times in the 200 freestyle (1:42.35) and 500 (4:37.12).

Jason Wesseling, Jenison junior: He finished second in Division 2 in the backstroke last season to Okemos’ Adam Marsh, who also is back. But Wesseling enters this weekend with the top D2 seed time in the event, 51.22, and the fourth-best of 21.62 in the 50. He also finished eighth in the 100 freestyle in 2012.

Division 3 at Eastern Michigan University 

Team contenders: East Grand Rapids is hoping for its first championship since 2009, but third in six seasons, and is the No. 1-ranked team. The Pioneers have 16 entries with top-16 seeds, plus five divers. But No. 2 Bloomfield Hills Lahser should make a strong push with 15 top-16 seeds including three number ones. And No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood also has 16 top-16 seeds.

Bloomfield Hills Lahser 200 medley relay: John Schihl, Jack Ramonat and Joe Finn also swim on the top-seeded 400 freestyle relay, but could start the Division 3 meet with a classic race as Lahser’s top-seeded time of 1:37.49 in the medley is only 18 hundredths of a second faster than that of East Grand Rapids.

Ryan Beezhold, Grand Rapids Christian senior: He finished fourth in the 50 freestyle and second in the 100 at last season’s Division 3 Final. He’s got the top D3 seed times in both races heading into this weekend — 21.7 in the 50 and 46.95 in the 100. 

Parker Cook-Weeks, Holland Christian junior: The reigning Division 3 champion in the 500 freestyle has the fastest seed time in his division of 4:40.19, but perhaps more impressive is his top seed time of 142.04 in the 200 — more than three seconds faster than the field. He also finished fifth in the 200 IM in 2012.

Matt Hooper, East Grand Rapids senior: The reigning breaststroke champion after winning the race both in 2012 and 2011, he’s swam it in 58 seconds flat – which would break the current meet record, although it is the second-fastest seed time in this division. He also has the third-best seed time in the IM of 1:58.19.

Matt Liu, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood senior – He has the second-fastest D3 seed time in the IM of 1:58.09 and also the second-fastest in the butterfly of 53.57. He finished second in both the IM and the breaststroke at the 2012 Final.

John Schihl, Bloomfield Hills Lahser junior: After finishing third in the 100 breaststroke and ninth in the 100 freestyle in Division 3 last season, he’s in line to break a meet record. His seed time in the breaststroke is 57.72, which would erase the meet record of 58.15 swam in 2008. Schihl also has the fourth-lowest seed time in the 50 of 22.17.

Henry Swett, Marshall sophomore: He’s continued to build on winning the Division 3 championship last season with a score of 435.65. He’s the favorite again this weekend. 

PHOTO: Swimmers launch during a race at last season's Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final at Oakland 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.)