'Next Group' Delivers for Seaholm

March 14, 2015

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half 

HOLLAND – One key to a successful MHSAA Finals is a team’s ability to thrive in the relay events.

Birmingham Seaholm’s boys swimming and diving team used that formula to win the program’s second straight Lower Peninsula Division 2 title Saturday at the Holland Community Aquatic Center. 

Seaholm swept all three relay races, the 200-yard medley, 200 freestyle and 400 free, en route to tallying 393 points.

“To win a state meet, it’s all about the relays,” Seaholm coach Tom Wyllie said. “You have to have fast relays because they are worth so many points. You try to put together the best combinations and that really set us up nicely. We had three very strong relays, and we had a great meet.” 

Seaholm, which has won the MHSAA Finals three of the past five years, outgained runner-up Ann Arbor Skyline, which finished with 271.5 points. Dexter placed third with 239 points, while Birmingham Groves was fourth at 189.

“There’s pressure when you have the target on your back and you are favored to win,” Wyllie said. “We’ve been in that situation before, and it hasn’t always worked out. We were really focusing on trying to take care of business doing what we could do. 

“Though you can’t win the meet on Friday, you can lose the meet on Friday. You have to put yourself in position to win on Saturday. You set the table, and if the table is set then we can eat. That was really our focus, and we had so many guys just step up after graduating so many swimmers from last season. The next group came in and delivered.”

Seaholm junior Sebastian Fay won the diving portion with 435.35 points. He edged Grosse Pointe South’s Erik Romer, who had 425.45 points. 

Fay placed runner-up a year ago.

“I knew it was going to be close from the beginning of the season, and I knew five guys who were doing the same scores every meet,” Fay said. “It was tough, but I was excited to win. 

“As a team, I think how close we are really helped. We are all super good friends, and that makes swimming and diving together a great experience.”

Skyline coach Sean Hickman was hoping to put more pressure on Seaholm, but he was satisfied with the runner-up finish. 

Skyline’s Ryan VanderMeulen, a junior, clocked a time of 1 minute, 39.56 seconds to win the 200 free, while teammate Matt Orringer, a senior, took top honors in the 500 free with a time of 4:33.72.

“We’re pleased by that,” Hickman said. “We were shooting for a top-four finish, and we had a great day Friday to put us in position and the guys swam solid today. That was our team goal, and everybody delivered. 

“We were hoping to give Seaholm more of a run, but they really are the best team this year. We tried our best, and it was a great team effort.”

Grosse Pointe South junior Jacob Montague shined and emerged as the top swimmer after capturing a pair of wins that also were LP Division 2 Finals records. 

Montague was victorious in the 200 individual medley with a record-breaking time of 1:48.11 and followed that with an impressive mark of 54.66 in the 100 breaststroke.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Montague said. “I was just trying to go out and swim as fast as I can and try to touch the wall first each time. It’s a huge honor, and I never would’ve expected that I could have done it. 

“I just try to work hard every single day, and I’m shocked that I even got (the records) because I didn’t have records on my mind.”

Montague didn’t begin swimming competitively until his freshmen year upon the urging of his older brother. He produced school records in both events during his sophomore campaign. 

“I just wanted him to have fun and have some good swims,” Grosse Pointe South coach Eric Gunderson said. “We expected him to go fast, and he did just that. We didn’t necessarily come in expecting any state records or anything, but we knew it wasn’t out of the question if he had a good day, and he did.

“He works incredibly hard, and I’ve never seen a kid who puts in so much effort and it comes out in his swims. It was great to see a day come together for him.” 

Dexter junior Robbie Zofchak also established a new LP Division 2 Finals record in the 100 backstroke. He clocked a 49.72.

Zofchak also finished runner-up to Montague in the 200 IM. 

“I was really gunning for the record, and it was definitely something special,” Zofchak said. “I’m really proud of myself for that, and I knew I just had to go out and try my best. I was a little disappointed in the IM, but he went really fast. That was impressive.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Birmingham Seaholm raises its championship trophy Saturday. (Middle) Grosse Pointe South’s Jacob Montague races to a meet record finish. (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.)