Preview: 3 Champs Look for 3rd Straight

March 10, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Birmingham Brother Rice, Birmingham Seaholm and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood all are seeking their third straight Lower Peninsula boys swimming and diving championships this weekend.

But only two are favored to add another title – and both favorites are facing arguably the toughest competition of their current reigns.

Michigan also will say good-bye to an accomplished group of seniors that have won a combined 16 individual championships – 13 in swimming and three in diving – as they make their final MHSAA Finals appearances.

See below for team favorites and top individuals to watch at all three meets. Preliminaries are Friday, with championship races and diving Saturday. All three Finals also will be streamed live and can be watched with subscription on MHSAA.TV

Click for lineups and seed times for all three meets.

LP Division 1 at Holland Aquatics

Team contenders: Birmingham Brother Rice is competing for its third straight LP Division 1 championship and fourth straight top-two finish after winning last year’s Final by 111 points. The Warriors have 18 swimmers seeded to score, with all three relays enter seeded second. But Ann Arbor Skyline should provide a formidable challenge after finishing runner-up in Division 2 a year ago. The Eagles have 12 swimmers seeded to score including three tops seeds, plus a diver that finished third at his Regional.

Spencer Carl, Holland West Ottawa junior – Posted top-five finishes last season in the butterfly and 200-yard freestyle and is seeded first this time in the butterfly (50.53) and second in the free (1:39.95).

Cameron Craig, Monroe senior – Held the LP Division 1 Finals backstroke record for a season after setting it as a sophomore while also winning the butterfly that winter; Craig is seeded first both in the individual medley (1:47.17) and backstroke (47.84), with that backstroke time 55 hundredths of a second faster than the current all-Finals record set in 2002 and the IM time 11 hundredths of a second faster than the all-Finals record set a year ago.  

Micah DeJonge, Zeeland senior – Holds the top seed in the 500 freestyle (4:30.90) and third seed in the 200 (1:40.68) after taking fourth in both races a year ago.

Drew Grady, Birmingham Brother Rice senior – Finished second in the breaststroke and 10th in the 50 last season and might have the best chance of all his teammates to add an individual title with the seventh seed in the 100 (46.86) but the second, only hundredth of a second behind, in the breaststroke (57.98). 

Jonathan Lee, Detroit Catholic Central sophomore – Should make a big jump after taking 13th in the breaststroke and qualifying in the IM as a freshman last season. Lee is seeded second in the IM (1:53.83) and first in the breaststroke (57.97) this weekend.

Trayton Saladin, Bridgman senior – The reigning champion in the 500 also finished ninth in the 200 free last season; he is seeded ninth in the 200 (1:44.16) and third in the 500 (4:40.70).  

Gabriel Trevino, Zeeland junior – Finished sixth in the 100 freestyle and seventh in the IM in 2015, but enters this meet seeded first in the 50 (20.97) and fifth in the 100 (46.59).

Ryan Vander Meulen, Ann Arbor Skyline senior – Last season’s 200 freestyle champion in LP Division 2 will swim his final high school meet as the top seeds in LP Division 1 in the 200 (1:38.83) and 100 (45.92). He was second in the 100 in LP Division 2 last year.

Jake Herremans, Rockford senior – Posted the highest LP Division 1 Regional score by nearly 15 points after winning LP Division 1 Finals championships as both a sophomore and junior. His 528.45 score in 2015 is the meet record.

LP Division 2 at Saginaw Valley State University

Team contenders: Birmingham Seaholm has won the last two LP Division 2 titles but is ranked only fourth; top-ranked Dexter is the favorite to take the championship back after last winning in 2012 and finishing second in 2014. The Dreadnaughts have 14 top-16 seeds, including three top seeds, plus two divers after finishing third a year ago. Warren DeLaSalle, ranked second, has 19 top-16 seeds including two top seeds, and a diver. And don’t forget about fourth-ranked Seaholm, which has 12 seeded to score including two top seeds, plus the reigning diving champion and another who finished fourth at their Regional.

Scott Carstens, Battle Creek Lakeview senior – Finished fifth in the 50 and ninth in the backstroke last season and will look to finish his career with his first individual title; Carstens is seeded first in the 50 (20.97) and fifth in the backstroke (53.20).  

P.J. Desmet, Warren DeLaSalle senior – Finished second in the backstroke and sixth in the butterfly last season and also is looking to go out with a first championship; he’s seeded first in the butterfly (51.58) and second in the backstroke (52.22) and also swims on the top-seeded 200 medley relay (1:35.38).

Graham Miotke, Rochester Adams sophomore – Should make a big jump after finishing 10th in the 500 and 14th in the 200 freestyle as a freshman. Miotke is seeded first in the 500 (4:36.96) by nearly nine seconds and fourth in the 200 (1:43.53).

Jacob Montague, Grosse Pointe South senior – The Blue Devils’ standout won Division 2 championships in the breaststroke and IM last season, setting meet records in both. He’s top-seeded in the breaststroke (56.96) and IM (1:49.40), by more than five seconds in the latter.

Nehemiah Mork, Midland Dow senior – The Dow speedster also won two races last season, the 50 and 100 freestyles. He’s seeded only third in the 50 (21.09) but only 12 hundredths of a second off the top, and first in the 100 (45.90) by more than a second.

Robbie Zofchak, Dexter senior – Part of the Dreadnaughts’ title hopes rest on Zofchak, last season’s champion in the backstroke (setting the meet record) who also finished second to Montague in the IM. He’s seeded first in the backstroke (50.44) and 200 freestyle (1:42.07) and swims on the top-seeded 400 freestyle relay (3:10.29).

Sebastian Fay, Birmingham Seaholm senior – He won last season’s championship by 9.9 points and is the favorite to repeat after posting the top Regional score in Division 2 by 39 points.

LP Division 3 at Eastern Michigan University

Team contenders: The last two LP Division 3 Finals have ended the same way – Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood first and Chelsea second, by 130.5 points last season but by only 25 and a few tenths in 2014. The top-ranked Cranes have 18 top-16 seeds including three top seeds this time. East Grand Rapids, the champion in 2013 and third-place finisher last season, is ranked No. 2 and also has 18 seeded to score with three top seeds, plus brings a Regional diving champion in junior Grant Williams. Chelsea is expected to remain in the hunt, ranked No. 3 and with 14 seeded to score including two top seeds, plus two divers.

Rudy Aguilar, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep junior – Posted four top-eight places in Division 1 over his freshman and sophomore seasons at Brother Rice, including runner-up finishes in the 200 and 500 freestyles last year. He’s seeded second in the backstroke (52.52) and seventh in the 100 freestyle (48.33) this weekend.

Christian Bart, East Grand Rapids sophomore – Finished second in the breaststroke and IM as a freshman and is seeded second in the breaststroke (58.07) and first in the IM (1:53.44) this time.

Skyler Cook-Weeks, Holland Christian sophomore – After finishing second in the 500 and sixth in the 200 freestyles as a freshman, Cook-Weeks is seeded first in both with a time of 1:43.17 in the 200 and 4:37.77 in the 500.

Giorgio DelGrosso, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood senior – The reigning champion in the breaststroke also finished third in the IM last season; he’s seeded first in the breaststroke (57.94) and second to Bart in the IM (1:57.46).

Andy MacGregor, East Grand Rapids senior – He won the 100 and 200 freestyles last season and also has been part of two championship relays over the last two Finals. He’s seeded second to Skyler-Weeks in the 200 (1:44.06) and also second in the 100 (46.95) by two hundredths of a second.

Joey Mangner, Chelsea junior – He’s seeded just ahead of MacGregor in the 100 (46.93) after finishing second to him in 2015, and also seeded first in the 50 (21.02) after winning that race last season.

Alec Nyboer, Hamilton senior – Set the LP Division 3 meet record in winning the butterfly last season and also took third in the backstroke; he’s seeded first in the butterfly (50.40) and third in the backstroke (53.15).

Joey Puglessi, Grand Rapids Catholic Central senior – The reigning champion in the backstroke set the meet record last season and is seeded first this weekend (52.37). He’s also seeded sixth in the 200 (1:46.99) after placing 13th a year ago.

Andrew Trunsky, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood senior – Trunsky was first in the 500 and third in the 200 freestyles as a junior and is part of a strong field in both again, seeded second in the 500 (4:42.65) and fourth in the 200 (1:45.25).

East Grand Rapids 200 freestyle relay – Half the names are new after last season’s meet record-setting victory in 1:26.06. But Bart and MacGregor will join junior Cade Vruggink and senior Mitchell McMahon in an attempt at going faster. They enter with a top seed time of 1:26.91. 

DeWitt's Thomas Blazes Swimming Path with Historic Finals Performance

By Steve Vedder
Special for

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.)