Marquette Boys Run Title Streak to 4

February 18, 2017

By Ryan Stieg
Special for Second Half

MARQUETTE – Dynasties come to an end eventually, no matter what the sport.

But Marquette’s reign continued for another year Saturday at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Boys Swimming & Diving Finals.

The Redmen dominated the competition again in winning its fourth championship in a row. They ended up with 312 points, well ahead of second-place Houghton’s 239. Sault Ste. Marie finished third at the meet with 203, Gladstone took fourth with 167 and Ishpeming/Negaunee ended up fifth with 123.

Even though it has become a routine for the Redmen to finish on top at the U.P. Finals, Marquette head coach Nathan McFarren said that each championship continues to be meaningful to both him and his team.

“It still feels pretty awesome,” he said. “What we’ve been able to accomplish is incredible. I’m just happy to be along for the ride.”

“I give a lot of credit to this team. They realized that they needed to have respect for themselves and their coaches and have fun at the same time. You can’t be in sports without having fun and trusting each other. After that, the success just fell into place. We’ve won titles before, but this one was extra special. It was just an incredible day.”

The most impressive part of Marquette’s victory was that it won only two events – both were relays. The Redmen won the 200-yard medley relay and set a U.P. Finals record in the 200 freestyle relay with the team of Andrew Kilpela, Ryan Glover, Jed Weber and Matthew Nykanen.

“To top off that day with that record relay was just great,” McFarren said. “This pool has never seen that before and that’s pretty cool.”

Houghton gave Marquette a good fight, but the Redmen pulled away in the later events. The Gremlins won two events, as Peter Jaszczak took first in the 100 butterfly and Sal Sharp finished on top in the 1-meter diving event Friday.

“Our boys really stepped up big for us,” Houghton head coach Erik Johnson said. “I was hoping going in to have a chance at second, and our divers set the bar high. Literally, everyone contributed today and Peter set a school record in the butterfly. They all did very well.”

Sault Ste. Marie won three of the events, the biggest being Andrew Innerebner’s U.P. Finals record in the 200 freestyle. The Blue Devils also received first places from Leevi Olson in the 50 free and 100 breaststroke and also won the 400 free relay.

Sault Ste. Marie head coach Steve Habusta was pleased with how his team performed despite its youth and inexperience.

“We’re a young team and we’re still learning the process, but today went well,” he said. “Finishing third is great, and we are where we want to be. This is also where I expected us to be, and we’re going to continue to get better.

“I think Andrew is the U.P. swimmer of the year, and to set a record like that is pretty phenomenal. Leevi also had a great day by winning two events with both different strokes and different lengths. That isn’t easy to do.”

Gladstone’s Matthew LeClaire picked up both of the Braves’ victories. He won the 200 individual medley and set a U.P. Finals record in the 100 backstroke. Kingsford’s Caleb Plumley was the final individual champion as he won the 500 free.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) A Marquette swimmer launches during a relay at Saturday's Upper Peninsula Finals. (Middle) A competitor powers through his swim at Marquette High School. (Click to see more from Jarvinen Photos.)

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.)