Pioneer Climbs Podium for 16th Time, 1st Since 2009

By Will Kennedy
Special for Second Half

March 27, 2021

HUDSONVILLE — Ann Arbor Pioneer dominated Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals and came away with its 16th championship, earning four individual titles in the process. 

Coach Stefanie Kerska said she was thrilled with the way her team performed throughout the entire competition, earning 369 points. That total was nearly 100 points more than the Pioneers’ closest competitor. 

“I am super pleased, I think we just wanted to be consistent from the start to the finish of the season,” Kerska said. “I thought they did such a great job doing that. Whether it was their preparation, execution, or just the way they’ve handled themselves, they’ve really been a dream.” 

But the day got off to a fast start for Saline, which finished second in the team standings. The Hornets took home the top spot in the 200-yard relay with a time of 1:30.35, more than a second faster than any other team and breaking a Hudsonville pool record. But Pioneer wasn’t far behind, finishing in second place, with a time of 1:31.74.

Another pool record fell in the second event of the day, the 200 freestyle. Pioneer senior Matthew Segal earned it with his time of 1:38.24 and added 20 points for his team. Northville senior Conner Halberg touched the wall less than a second after Segal, clocking in at 1:38.87. Rounding out the podium was Saline junior Matt Adanin at 1:41.41; he would later finish runner-up in backstroke as well. 

The Pioneers topped the podium again in the individual medley, with junior Ryan Hume touching the wall first in 1:50.37.

“I’ve been training for the whole year for this 200 IM,” Hume said. “I just had one mission, which was to win. I’m hoping to win again next year and hopefully break a varsity record.’

2021 LP Boys Swim & Dive Finals

During the sprint of the afternoon, the 50 free, West Ottawa claimed two of the top three spots on the way to finishing team runner-up. Junior Kevin Maas finished first with a blistering swim of 20.60 seconds to break the pool record. Senior teammate Josh Rottier finished in third (21.33), as Lake Orion senior Dane Herrick finished in the middle with a time of 21.13.

Even though his team finished just off the top of the podium, West Ottawa coach Steve Bowyer said he was beyond pleased with the way the Panthers ended the season.

“We knew coming in this year that Ann Arbor Pioneer was going to be really tough to beat,” Bowyer said. “We came in hoping for a runner-up finish and our guys got the job done today … we had some really nice performances today.”

Just like most other events on the day, Pioneer dominated the one-meter dive, as senior Cole Tremewan won by nearly 40 points, scoring 449.05. 

“I’m so happy for our diving program and for Cole winning; it was such a big moment for him,” Kerska said. “I know he felt a lot of pressure and handled it so beautifully.” 

The 100 butterfly proved to be a race where Saline could claw back some points, finishing two swimmers among the top 16 to Pioneer’s one. Huron Valley junior Fletcher Smith topped the podium with a time of 50.40.

In the 100 free, Pioneer placed three swimmers among the top 16, while Saline had two. But the Hornets got more points earning the individual title thanks to senior Ethan Saunders’ blazing 44.64.

The Pioneers padded their lead in the 500, placing two swimmers among the top three, Hume finished in second (4:31.93) and junior Cameron Williston finished in third (4:40.80). Northville’s Halberg finished just ahead of Hume with a time of 4:31.31. 

A new LP Division I Finals record was set in the 200-freestyle relay by West Ottawa’s team of Rottier, Tai Afrik, Alex Boersema and Maas, who finished in 1:23.25. Maas closed hard, finishing the final leg in just 19.94. Saline came in just milliseconds after the Panthers (1:23.68). The Pioneers weren’t far behind, clocking in third with a time of 1:25.32

2021 LP Boys Swim & Dive Finals

“It was really close, Saline’s freestyle was superfast, so I knew I had to bring it home for the team,” Maas said.” That was our goal, to get that state record, for the entire season. We talked about it like every day.”

Pioneer put two more finishers among the top 16 in the 100 backstroke, which was won by Rochester junior Jack VanHowe in 49.35. Pioneer then dominated in the 100 breaststroke, with Segal posting an all-division/class Finals record of 53.26.

Segal said he was thrilled with the accolade, but the team title means so much more.

“This team is amazing,” Segal said. “I’m really happy about all my other events, achieving state titles in individual events is really fun, but winning it as a team is a surging sense of pride. To accomplish something we know we’ve been working for, we’ve had it in our minds the whole season.” 

Pioneer continued to rack up the big points, finishing the 400 free relay in second place with a time of 3:03.84. Saline took the top spot again with a time of 3:03.84.

The title marks the Pioneers’ first since 2009. Though they don’t plan on waiting 12 years before winning it again, finally breaking the drought meant a lot to this team. 

“It means a lot. ... I was on those Pioneer former state championship teams, so I know what it means to the school and the community,” Kerska said. “I’m just so glad that we’re bringing back the tradition of Pioneer swimming and diving.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) An Ann Arbor Pioneer swimmer celebrates during Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals at Hudsonville High School. (Middle) A Holland West Ottawa competitor swims the breaststroke. (Below) Another racer swims the butterfly. (Click for more from

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.)