Peel, VanMeter Put On Show at Last Meet

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

March 9, 2019

ROCHESTER – Going into the 2019 Division 3 Boys Swimming & Diving Finals at Oakland University, both Spring Lake senior Cam Peel and Holland Christian senior Riley VanMeter had other numbers driving their respective quests to be No. 1. 

For Peel, it was a third-place finish at last year’s Finals meet in the 50-yard freestyle that weighed on his mind as he readied to start this year’s ultimate sprint race. 

But Peel avenged that memory by capturing his first 50 freestyle championship, in his last chance, in a time of 19.91 seconds. In Friday's prelim, he set the all-Finals record in the race at 19.86, becoming the first in Michigan to break 20 seconds in high school competition.

“I’ve always wanted to win the 50,” Peel said. “That’s one where the more mature guys win, so it’s super hard to win as a younger guy in the event. This was my year.”

Peel – who will go on to swim at University of Michigan – then completed the sweep of the sprint events by repeating as champion in the 100 yards in a time of 43.94, finishing as one of two individual standouts of the meet.

The other was VanMeter, who first won the 100 butterfly in a time of 48.07 – which wasn’t a surprise since he was the top seed going in.

But VanMeter also eyed a title in the 100 backstroke, an event he entered seeded second.

VanMeter surpassed that seeding with a terrific swim, winning the backstroke in a time of 48.95 to edge his club teammate, Joey Wachter of Spring Lake. 

VanMeter, who will swim at Alabama, was second in both events at last year’s Division 3 meet. 

“It’s just satisfying to be able to cap that on the end my high school swimming career,” VanMeter said. “It’s great to see where it’s been and where I’m going. I look back on all the amazing people I’ve swam against, and it’s a great way to end my high school swimming career.”

VanMeter was the main standout for Holland Christian, but he certainly wasn’t the only one, as the Maroons repeated as team champions with a meet-best 323.5 points. 

East Grand Rapids finished with 267 points to place runner-up for the fourth straight year, while Marshall was third with 198 points.

Spring Lake (197) and Hamilton (139) rounded out the top five. 

“We just had a really good Friday,” Holland Christian head coach Todd Smeenge said. “Prelims on Friday set you up for finals on Saturday. You can’t win a meet on Friday, but you certainly can lose it. I can’t say there was any magic trick, but we had some swims that were surprising even to me. I didn’t think they were going to swim that fast.”

Holland Christian and East Grand Rapids were tied atop the state rankings going into the meet, but the depth for the Maroons turned out to be the difference. 

Holland Christian’s team of Colin Kalkman, Brant Assink, VanMeter and Brad Windemuller won the 200 medley relay in a time of 1:35.81, while the Maroons had second-place finishes in the 200 freestyle (Levi VanAst) and 100 freestyle (Jacob Heeres). Diving and the breaststroke were the only events where Holland Christian didn’t have a top-five finisher.

“Last year, we had a team made up of top-end studs … that took a lot of first places,” Smeenge said. “We took several state records. This year, we were more about depth and having the guys in all the places.”

Other individual winners besides Peel and VanMeter were Spring Lake junior Kevin Losee in the 200 freestyle (1:39.76), Trenton sophomore Spencer Boling-Hamer in the 200 individual medley (1:55.73), St. Johns senior Cayden Petrak in the diving event (520.20), Mason sophomore Jonas Cantrell in the 500 freestyle (4:34.45) and Milan freshman Andrew Dobrzanski in the 100 breaststroke (58.53). 

Spring Lake’s team of Wachter, Sam Sella, Losee and Peel won the 200 freestyle relay in a time of 1:22.88, while Spring Lake’s team of Losee, Charles Brown, Wachter and Peel won the 400 freestyle relay in a time of 3:03.66. 

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Holland Christian athletes dive into the Oakland University pool Saturday to celebrate their Division 3 championship. (Middle) Spring Lake's Cam Peel, left, and Holland Christian's Jacob Heeres congratulate each other after their 400 relays finished first and second, respectively. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Local Dominance Achieved Again, Dow Sets Sights on Statewide Success

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

January 25, 2023

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.

Bay & ThumbGet 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.

Thomas Bacigalupo, second from left on starting block, prepares to lead off the B heat of the 400 freestyle relay. “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 CostanzoPaul 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 paulcostanzo3@gmail.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.)