Holland Leads From Start to Finish in D2

March 9, 2013

By Jon Malavolti
Special to Second Half

ROCHESTER – A blazing, record-breaking photo finish in the first race of the day set the tone for Holland High as the boys swimming and diving team went wire-to-wire in first place of the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals on Saturday at Oakland University.

The Dutch opened the day edging eventual meet runner-up Ann Arbor Pioneer by two hundredths of a second for first in the 200-yard medley relay.

“That definitely set us off right,” Holland senior Derek Bosko said. “It just got us all going.”

Holland’s all-senior team of Connor Bos, Kyle Doss, Gage Mitchell and Jonathon Maat finished the race in 1 minute and 34.81 seconds. Pioneer’s squad of Matthew Erickson, Chris Klein, Kai Williams and Thad Stalmack finished in 1:34.83. Both times were good enough to surpass the former Division 2 meet record of 1:35.32 set by Zeeland in 2008.

“It just really set the right spot. Not only did it give us a cushion in points, but it really fired everybody up,” Holland coach Don Kimble said. “For them to go that fast is really something.”

The Dutch boys won their first MHSAA title since taking the LP Division 2 crown in 2007.

“We have a good system that works, and we have a bunch of good kids,” Kimble said. “They worked their butts off.”

Bosko said it’s been his teammates’ goal for years to finish first at the Finals.

“Since my freshman year, we’ve believed that we could do it. And just this year the whole team came together and really made it happen,” he said. “It’s awesome.”

While Holland never relinquished the lead throughout all 12 events, Pioneer pushed the Dutch all day.

“I knew Pioneer would be tough,” Kimble said. “When the team listings came out for divisions back in July, every boy I saw I warned about Pioneer. I know their ability, and I knew right away they were going to be trouble.”

“We knew today when we started the meet it was going to be tough,” Bosko added.

Pioneer coach Dennis Hill said his team “really swam well.”

“The kids came together and had just great swims,” said Hill, who co-coaches the team with his wife Liz. “We came a long ways.”

Pioneer senior Chris Klein was proud of his teammates.

“I think we did a great job,” he said. “A lot of the guys had great times, and we’re really excited about it.”

Klein, in addition to participating in the opening relay, anchored the Pioneers’ second-place 400 freestyle relay while grabbing a pair of first-place individual finishes in the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke. He also set a meet record in the breaststroke, and was honored as the Swimmer of the Meet.

“Chris has been so much fun, to watch him as a young ninth grader to grow into a real man. He’s going to Michigan next year, and he’s going to be a big part of that Michigan team,” Hill said. “But he has come so far through hard work and determination. It’s a pleasure to see that kind of stuff happen to young people.”

When asked what kind of work Klein has put into reaching his accomplishments, he responded: “Every day in the pool pushing it as hard as you can, and just knowing that you’ve done what you can do, and trained as hard as you can, and that you’re going to have a great swim.”

St. Johns senior Brennan LaBar emerged as the best diver, winning that competition with 365.20 points. He reclaimed the title he won in 2011 as a sophomore, after finished in second last year.

“That’s all I wanted, was to get the title back, to be state champion again, that really drove me throughout the season,” the Michigan State University-bound diver said. “There’s minimal room for error here, diving against the best in Michigan. I really enjoy diving against the best; it brings out the best in my diving.”

Holland would go on to win five other races on the day to continue its dominance and ensure the title. Kimble, who also coached the Dutch girls team to the Division 2 championship in the fall, joked that perhaps his girls are the only ones who can look down on his boys squad. The Holland girls have won two straight titles.

“The girls like the bragging rights because they have two in a row, so they have a little edge on the boys,” Kimble said. “The boys just take longer to develop this type of level of team. The girls have gotten used to reloading every year and coming back. The guys, we have to reload. And we have a big senior class this year, so we’ll see what happens next.”

But to Bosko and his teammates, all that matters is they went home with the trophy Saturday.

“It’s just expectations really of Holland swimming,” the Dutch senior said. “We’ve always had a tradition of getting a trophy, and really this year, it was all or nothing. It was first or nothing.”

PHOTOS: (Top) A swimmer celebrates during Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final at Oakland University. (Middle) Holland holds up its trophy after edging Ann Arbor  Pioneer for the title. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

DeWitt's Thomas Blazes Swimming Path with Historic Finals Performance

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)