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.)
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 email@example.com 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.)