Marquette Boys Sweep Swim Events to Repeat as UP Finals Champ

By Travis Nelson
Special for Second Half

February 19, 2022

MARQUETTE – The Marquette boys swimming & diving team’s dominant season continued into the Upper Peninsula Finals with another impressive victory to close out the season Saturday.

Marquette won all 11 swimming events and posted second, third and fourth-place finishes in diving, and finished the meet with 368 points to repeat as champion. Houghton was next at 265. Sault Ste. Marie placed in third with 114 points, edging out Rudyard’s 106, and Manistique finished fifth with 87 points.

Marquette’s depth showed all season, and coach Nate McFarren was pleased to see it transfer to the season’s concluding event.

“I think I said last year, but I’m going to say it again this year: We never had this much depth,” McFarren said. “Winning every event except for diving, and even in diving going two, three and four (places) behind a U.P. record holder – pretty solid performance by everybody.”

Marquette swimmingMarquette’s 200-yard freestyle relay team of senior Bobby Caron and juniors Liam McFarren, Colin Vanderschaaf and Maverick Baldwin broke the school, pool and U.P. Finals records, formerly set by Marquette in 2017, by a full second in 1:29.93. There was some doubt within the team that they could break the record, but their biggest performance on the biggest stage shattered it.

“It was incredible. We were three seconds away from the record and we broke it by a full second,” Liam McFarren said. “We never thought that we would be able to do this today. We were all hoping for it, but it honestly took us all by surprise. We all swam the best times in our entire lives.”

The 200 medley relay team of McFarren, Vanderschaaf, Baldwin and junior Andrew King were also close to snapping a record, missing out by two tenths of a second. McFarren also captured individual victories in the 100 butterfly and 100 free. 

Vanderschaaf also had a stellar day with individual wins in the 200 free and 100 breaststroke. The work he put in helped him earn this moment.

“(I’ve been) working hard in and out of the pool and trying to recover and swim as fast as I can,” Vanderschaaf said.

Other individual Marquette victories came from freshman Sevi Voigt in the 200 individual medley and 500 free, King in the 100 backstroke and Baldwin in the 50 free. The 400 free relay team of Caron, King, Voigt and freshman Trevor Crandell also pulled through in the final event.

“It felt really good after all the practices, all the little mishaps throughout the season and everything between,” Liam McFarren said. “It just felt good to be able to get in the water and do more than what we thought we could actually do.”

Houghton’s Quinn Aho claimed the victory in diving. His 269.90 score bested the previous record, set in 2003, by 5.1 points. The Gremlins also posted seven runner-up finishes in the meet to claim second place as a team.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Liam McFarren cheers on a Marquette teammate during the 200 freestyle relay Saturday. (Middle) Teammate Colin Vanderschaaf swims the 100 breaststroke on the way to winning that race. (Photos by Daryl Jarvinen. For more, email [email protected].)

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.)