Performance: West Ottawa's Derek Maas

January 19, 2018

Derek Maas
Holland West Ottawa junior – Swimming

The Panthers’ standout won the 100-yard backstroke (52.02 seconds), took second in the 200 individual medley (1:56.80) and swam on winning 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays Saturday as West Ottawa – then ranked No. 4 in Lower Peninsula Division 1 – defeated No. 1 Ann Arbor Skyline 104-79 and No. 3 Birmingham Brother Rice 111-72. The victories moved the Panthers into top spot in the rankings this week, as Maas earned the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Maas’ backstroke time from the weekend is the fastest in Michigan this winter, and his 1:56.08 at the East Grand Rapids Classic ranks sixth in the IM. He finished second in the backstroke and seventh in the IM at last season’s LPD1 Finals, with his times that day – 50.04 and 1:52.93 – his career bests at the high school level. He also owns the USA Swimming state age 15-16 record in the 200 breaststroke of 2:02.61, set as a member of the West Ottawa Swim Club at the USA Junior National Championships East in December.

The school records in both the backstroke (48.49) and IM (1:48.30) are held by Derek’s older brother Kyle, a 2016 West Ottawa graduate who finished LPD1 runner-up in both events as a senior and now swims at University of Alabama. Derek is considering joining his brother after high school among a number of potential southern college options, and also is a fan of University of Michigan athletics. Maas also played tennis as a freshman and sophomore and ran track as a freshman, and he might pick back up one or both of those sports after this swim season is complete. He carries a 3.94 unweighted grade-point average (4.49 weighted) and is considering studying medicine after high school; he lost his 4.0 when he got an A- in Algebra II – while taking the class as a fourth grader.

Coach Steven Bowyer said: “Derek has had a significant impact on the overall success of our program. Derek received all-state honors as a sophomore in the 200 IM and 100 back. In his junior year, he will play a significant role on our state meet relays, and his individual points will be key in helping our team achieve its goal of a top-4 state meet finish. … Derek's success has come from years of hard work and long hours in the pool. He understands both the amount and type of training that is required to excel at the highest level in this sport. He is also a student of the sport, spending time studying his stroke mechanics and researching ways to increase his efficiency. Derek's work ethic and technical understanding of the sport give him a combination of skills that make him tough to beat. … In pursuit of individual excellence, Derek has always placed team success over his own. Derek understands the better the team gets, the better he gets and vice versa. Our team is training at a very high level right now, in part to the example that Derek sets on a daily basis. Derek also sets an unprecedented example in the classroom; he defines the term student athlete. In addition to the hours he puts in at the pool, he maintains a rigorous schedule of advanced placement courses. We are very proud to have Derek representing our program.”

Performance Point: “I was happy about the 100 back time – it was my season best – and also our relays swam great,” Maas said. “A lot of us had the fastest splits, especially on that medley relay. We came pretty close to setting the pool record – we were like 0.06 (seconds) away, and that was a pretty good in-season time for us. … Our team was really excited for that meet, especially. That was a big confidence booster for us, and I think that everybody after that meet really realized that we have a chance to do really well at the state meet. So I hope that that will make us work even harder, and by the end of the season we’ll be able to accomplish our goals.”

Depth in the deep: “We just have a lot more depth than we had years in the past. A couple of years ago we had Tabahn (Afrik), and he won two events (at the 2014 and 2015 Finals), and then Spencer Carl did the last couple years. But besides just a couple top swimmers, they didn’t have the depth we do this year. This year we have a really solid group of 7-10 swimmers. We’ve all been excited, even starting at the end of last season and starting the summer season. We all were really excited for the state meet coming in March.”

Swim family: “Kyle’s at Alabama right now, and my sister (Jenna, a senior) is thinking about swimming in college. And I also have a younger brother (eighth-grader Kevin) who I think is going to be pretty fast. I think he’ll make a much bigger impact than I did my freshman year. … The best part is whenever I’m at a certain point in a season, I’ll know how I’m doing because I can compare it to my brother’s times. And also, whenever I talk to him about swimming, he always pushes me and gets me motivated. Even my younger brother and older sister do too. We all push each other. Last year I compared all of my times to Kyle’s, and I used to text him about that. He was like, ‘Let’s wait and see if you get my varsity records.’”

High flier: “My family really likes (U.S. world champion sprinter) Caeleb Dressel. I read in this one SwimSwam article that he had like a 42-inch vertical (leap), and that’s insane. You can see how that makes him way better on the walls, so that made me more focused on box jumps and dry land (training) and increasing my vertical leap than I had been in the past. I’ve worked on it a lot this year; I’m probably just average right now, but I’m trying to improve that. I can dunk, and Kyle can too.”

Paging Dr. Derek: “Both of my parents are doctors, and they’ve always told us we could be any kind of doctor we want, all four kids. Recently my dad has been opening up the options, but it’s most likely I’ll go pre-med, and that’s what Kyle is doing right now at Alabama. I haven’t looked into it a ton, but I know I’d like dermatology and maybe surgery.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
January 11: Lexi Niepoth, Bellaire basketball - Read
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read 
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City Central golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Holland West Ottawa's Derek Maas competes during a meet this season. (Middle) Maas swims the butterfly. (Photos courtesy of the West Ottawa boys swimming & diving program.)

Local Dominance Achieved Again, Dow Sets Sights on Statewide Success

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

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 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.)