Marquette Repeats in Record Fashion

By John Vrancic
Special for

February 21, 2015

MARQUETTE — The Marquette boys left nothing to chance Saturday as they retained their MHSAA Upper Peninsula Finals swimming and diving title with 326 points.

The Redmen, also champions in 2014, broke four of five U.P. Finals records that fell on this day, with all also school and pool records.

Junior Sam Williams established a record in the 200-yard freestyle race in one minute, 47.59 seconds and the 500 (4:55.74). He also helped the Redmen set a record in the 200 medley relay (1:41.14) and win the 400 freestyle event (3:27.41).

“Sam setting those records were definitely a highlight for us,” said Marquette coach Nathan McFarren. “He’s such a hard worker and has a humble demeanor, and today he reaped what he sowed.

“Today’s performance by both of our teams was pretty awesome. I’m so lucky to be part of this swimming community. We’re not like Goliath. We’re a team. It takes every single kid to make this possible.”

First-year entry Gladstone was runner-up at 230 points, and Sault Ste. Marie edged Kingsford for third 198-195½ . 

Marquette senior Nathan Rotundo also set a record while earning his third straight 100 breaststroke title (1:00.29) and recorded a three-peat in the 200 individual medley (2:05.19).

“I think all the training we put in paid off today,” said Rotundo, who also helped the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays. “I felt pretty confident coming in. I wasn’t focusing on the win as much as I was on going for time. Everybody on our team did awesome. This is probably one of the best Finals this school has seen in a long time.

“We were a little nervous before the meet because we knew Gladstone had some good swimmers. It’s really cool for them to be able to be part of the U.P. Finals. They’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”

Gladstone sophomore Matt LeClaire set a meet record in the 100 backstroke at 54.91, won the 100 freestyle (51.08) and helped the Braves earn runner-up honors in the 200 medley (1:45.12) and 400 freestyle (3:32.27) relays.

“I really concentrated on that race,” LeClaire said of his record-setting performance in the backstroke. “I was amazed. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t expecting to get this time.

“Taking runner-up as a team is all right. I think we performed as well as we could. Marquette just beat us.”

McFarren, who swam two at Alma College, was impressed with Saturday’s performances.

“I’ve seen faster swimming, but I’ve never seen so much fast swimming as I did here today,” he said. “Our guys outperformed all my expectations today.”

Also taking a first for Gladstone was senior Thomas Prica in the 100 butterfly (57.09).

“I added about three seconds today, but times tend to fluctuate,” said Prica. “We’ve been swimming against these teams for years and years as a YMCA team. It’s nice to be recognized as a high school program. This is just another day of trying to get it done. You just can’t let the atmosphere get to you. It’s not different unless you make it different.”

Sault Ste. Marie was especially successful in Friday’s diving competition, where it grabbed three of the top four spots.

Senior Kyle Flickinger won with a personal-best 223.85 points. Classmate Levi Furr was runner-up (212.2) and junior Erik Finley took fourth (171).

“Staying calm was the key,” said Flickinger. “Last year, I got stressed out and didn’t do as well as I hoped. Our coaches gave me some good advice, and having the competition in practice helped.” 

The results also were pleasing to Sault diving coach Dylan Mayer.

“Kyle had a very good score,” he said. “He has all the mechanics down. From the beginning of the season, we knew we had a pretty strong team. Then, about mid-season, we felt pretty confident we could place high up here. It takes a lot of mental toughness to be a diver. It’s about 30 percent physical and 70 percent mental in my mind.” 

Sault freshman Leevi Olson won the 50 freestyle (23.11) and helped the fourth-seeded Blue Devils capture the 200 freestyle relay (1:40.41).

“I didn’t think we’d win it because we were such an underdog,” said Olson, who anchored that relay. “The adrenalin just kind of kicked in for everybody. I knew where I was, but didn’t feel anything. I wasn’t sure we had won. We were really excited to get it.” 

“I had a real good start in the 50. My feet and legs worked together real good. It helped to be seeded first. That got my confidence up.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: Competitors race during Saturday's MHSAA Upper Peninsula Finals 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.)