By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half
YPSILANTI – Rarely has a fifth-place finish meant more than it did Saturday afternoon to East Grand Rapids at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals at Michael H. Jones Natatorium on the campus of Eastern Michigan University.
East Grand Rapids went into the final event – the 400 freestyle relay – needing to finish fifth to guarantee the overall meet championship. A sixth-place finish paired with a first place by Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood would have left East Grand Rapids in second place.
Incredibly, Cranbrook-Kingswood tied Bloomfield Hills Lahser for first place in the final relay, and East Grand Rapids got the fifth-place finish it needed to win the Final championship by four points (278-274). It was the 10th championship for East Grand Rapids, which won the Division 3 title in 2008 and 2010 and won the Class B-C-D title every year from 1976-82.
“This is cool. Very cool,” said East Grand Rapids coach Butch Briggs, who has coached the Pioneers to all 10 MHSAA championships. “We had to hold fifth place (in the 400 freestyle relay), and they did a great job.
“They haven’t quit all year. We won our conference meet by a half-point, so these kids have been tough all year long.”
For a while, it looked like Cranbrook- Kingswood would not pull off first place in the 400 freestyle relay. The Cranes were third for the majority of the race before Matthew Liu finished the final 100 yards in stirring fashion. Earlier, Liu had won the 100 butterfly in 51.60 seconds.
Cranbrook-Kingswood came into the 400 freestyle with just the sixth-fastest prelim time of the eight finalists, but sliced 3.47 seconds off that time, finishing in 3 minutes, 12.99 seconds.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Cranbrook-Kingswood coach Karl Hodgson said. “They all dropped about the same amount of time across the board. It was a total team effort.
“We knew we had an outside shot. We were like a 3:21 coming in, and we end up going 3:12. That’s crazy fast for us.”
East Grand Rapids, meanwhile, was seventh after the first 50 yards and stayed between fourth and sixth after that. The Pioneers were fifth when Kurt Swieter dove into the water for the final 100 yards. He knew what he had to do.
“That last relay, we knew if Cranbrook was to get first, we couldn’t fall back, so I just went into that relay with the mindset that we were going to win,” said Swieter, a junior who was joined on the relay team by sophomore Jack Filion and freshmen Nathan Hein and Andy MacGregor. “I knew that we were fifth, and I knew that Cranbrook was moving. I saw them swimming in before I dove, and I wasn’t going to let it go.”
East Grand Rapids senior Matt Hooper had just successfully defended his individual MHSAA championship in the 100 breaststroke when the 400 freestyle relay was held, and all he could do was watch the drama unfold.
“Our guys were super stoked,” Hooper said. “We had two freshmen on that relay, and to see them step up like that was awesome. I believed in them from the start. We have a really fast freshman class, and they really got it done. We couldn’t have done it without them for sure.
“Our butterflier really stepped up big, and our backstroker was a full second faster than (Friday). We all had to get together and do it as a team, and that was the big thing, the team. Everyone showed up, and everyone performed well.”
Hooper certainly showed up and performed well. He helped the Pioneers win the first event – the 200 medley relay – and then not only defended his title in the breaststroke but broke the LP Division 3 meet record for the second day in a row after breaking it on Friday. Hooper’s winning time was 56.12 seconds.
“It was nerve-wracking,” he said. “I was telling my coach I think this meet was truly one of the only times I can say my heart was beating out of my chest before a race. I couldn’t swallow before the race.”
In the 200 medley relay, Hooper swam the breaststroke as East Grand Rapids won in 1:35.58 – breaking the school record set by the Pioneers two years ago with Hooper as a member of the relay.
Hooper’s day ended with a team championship, an individual championship complete with a meet record, and a relay championship, also complete with another meet record.
“It’s a really big honor to be on a team with these guys and to help out Coach Briggs get one more state championship before I’m done,” Hooper said. “It’s a heck of a way to go out. I couldn’t have asked for a better season or a better four years.”
There were several other outstanding efforts in addition to Hooper and East Grand Rapids. Parker Cook-Weeks of Holland Christian repeated as champion in the 500 freestyle in 4:38.27 and also won the 200 freestyle in 1:41.21. David Alday of Chelsea won the 100 freestyle in 46.85 and the 200 individual medley in 1:52.88, narrowly missing the LP Division 3 meet record of 1:52.80.
Alday won both of his races in come-from-behind fashion as he passed the leader in the final 25 yards.
“That’s how I like to do it,” Alday said, “lay back and see what I can do late in the race. In the last 25 (of the individual medley) I didn’t breathe once. I just stuck my head down.”
The victory in the individual medley was especially gratifying to Alday, who was limited last year after breaking his back when, as he put it, “I had a large kid jump on me.” Alday was limited to just freestyle events at last year’s MHSAA Final.
Cook-Weeks had a different challenge in winning his MHSAA titles. In both races, he had to battle his good friend Swieter, who swam the final leg of the 400 freestyle for East Grand Rapids. Cook-Weeks beat him by nearly a second in the 200 freestyle, and then the two had a virtual match race in the 500 freestyle as they finished within 1.35 seconds of each other but nearly five seconds ahead of the third-place finisher.
“Kurt and I are longtime friends, and we always have a battle and stay with each other,” Cook-Weeks said. “Kurt’s a great swimmer, no doubt about that, and we stuck together and fought it out. It was an iron man race.
“We just battled, and the last 50 I tried kicking it in because I just knew that I could do more. I wanted to make my parents, my family and my coaches proud and show that I can defend my title in the 500.”
Ollie Smith of Milan won the 50 freestyle in 21.04, and freshman Joey Puglessi of Grand Rapids Catholic Central took the 100 backstroke in 52.75. Detroit Country Day won the 200 freestyle relay in 1:26.61.
In 1-meter diving, Marshall sophomore Henry Swett outdistanced his nearest competitor by more than 20 points as he repeated as champion. Swett, who said he has trained on the trampoline with his brothers, said becoming a four-time MHSAA champion is one of his goals – but it comes with a price as he seemingly is the favorite whenever he competes.
“It puts more pressure on me, but I kind of like it that way,” said Swett, whose total of 431.20 fell just short of his winning total of 435.65 a year ago.
PHOTOS: (Top) East Grand Rapids' Matt Hooper swims to his third straight MHSAA championship in the 100-yard breaststroke Saturday. (Middle) The Pioneers celebrate their first team title since 2010. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
MARQUETTE – Marquette has won so many Upper Peninsula Boys Swimming & Diving Finals team championships, it’s running out of wall space to celebrate them as the boys list already runs from the high ceiling to just about pool level.
They added one more Saturday, their fifth straight title and 31st in school history, and did so in dominating fashion finishing ahead of runner-up Houghton 319-214. The day saw a Marquette sweep as the girls team also breezed to a U.P. championship with its list of championships running just about as far down the same wall.
“Last year, we graduated some real studs,” Marquette coach Nathan McFarren said. “If you would have told me that both teams would be here winning it today last year at this time, I would have said you’re crazy. But our boys that were B and C swimmers were ready to shine. They wanted their moment, and they got it today.”
Marquette junior Trevor Crandell won the 50-yard freestyle, finished runner-up in the 100 butterfly and helped Marquette to wins in the 200 medley relay and 400 free relay.
“It’s so rewarding,” Crandell said. “When you’re first starting the year, it’s so demotivating, you’re not swimming any meets, you’re not doing any good times. But when you get to the U.P. Finals, you’re on that taper, you’re on that block, you’re just ready to go, it’s something special.”
“Super-quiet kid, but this year found the eye of the tiger and really went after it,” McFarren said of Crandell. “So exciting to watch. He wanted it so bad this year, proud of him.”
Junior Isaiah Youngren picked up Marquette’s other individual race win, in the 100 breaststroke. Junior Chase Thomsen was the top diver with a score of 198.15.
Manistique’s Nathan Schoenow won the 100 and 200 freestyle races.
The senior had been sick in his other U.P. Finals appearances.
“It feels good; a lot of hard work in the pool and out of the pool came into this,” he said.
He looked to sprint through both races, including the 200.
“Earlier this season, I didn’t have a whole lot of endurance,” Schoenow said. “I tried to pace myself, maybe hold back a little. But for this meet, since it’s my last time ever doing the 200, I just decided to sprint the whole thing and see how that would work. It hurt a lot, I was really tired after, but it worked – I got my best time by 3.5 seconds.
“The other one (100), same thing, I tried to sprint as hard as I could and the second I felt tired, I would just try to will myself to go faster.”
Other individual winners included Kingsford’s Joey Lundholm in the 200 individual medley and 100 fly, Rudyard’s Keith McDowell in the 500 free and Houghton’s Beau Haataja in the 100 backstroke.
Gladstone was third in the team standings with Kingsford fourth, Ishpeming/Negaunee fifth, Sault Ste. Marie sixth, Rudyard seventh, Manistique eighth and Ishpeming Westwood ninth.
McFarren made it a combined 17 Finals championships as coach for boys and girls for Marquette, tying Marquette’s Matt Williams for the meet record.
PHOTOS (Top) Marquette’s Trevor Crandell celebrates his victory in the 50-yard freestyle Saturday. (Middle) Swimmers launch at the start of the 50 championship race. (Below) Kingsford’s Joey Lundholm swims to a win in the 200 individual medley. (Click for more from Jarvinen Photos.)