Preview: Annual Contenders Aim for Top Finish Again

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 12, 2021

No team has won more Upper Peninsula boys swimming & diving championships than reigning Finals champ Marquette’s 26.

Similarly, no team has finished second more than Sault Ste. Marie’s 19 runner-up finishes, to go along with four titles.

Those two stand to contend for the top two places again at this weekend’s event – order to be determined.

Diving is Friday at all swimming Saturday – click for more meet details. Both will be streamed live and viewable with subscription on

Here’s a glance at team and individual favorites:

Reigning champion: Marquette
Reigning runner-up: Sault Ste. Marie

Marquette broke Houghton’s two-season championship streak in 2020, finishing ahead of Sault Ste. Marie by 117 points. Prior to Houghton’s two-year run, Marquette had won four straight titles from 2014-17 – which followed Sault Ste. Marie’s most recent championship, in 2013.

Maverick Baldwin, Marquette sophomore – The top seed in the 100-yard freestyle (54.76) and fourth in the 50 (24.80) was second in the 50 as a freshman.

Morgan Burd, Sault Ste. Marie senior – He’s returning after winning the backstroke and individual medley and swimming on two championship relays in 2020. This time he’s seeded first in the 50 (23.18) and backstroke (57.63), the latter by nearly eight seconds.

Davin Evans, Houghton junior – He added a breaststroke championship last season to a relay title from freshman year, and also was third in the IM in 2020. He enters this weekend top-seeded in the IM (2:20.21) and second in the breaststroke (1:05.62).

Liam McFarren, Marquette sophomore – He kicked off his high school career with a championship in the 100 free and runner-up finish in the IM last season, and this weekend he’s top-seeded in the 200 free (2:00.83) and butterfly (1:00.48) both by six seconds.

Archer Olson, Houghton junior – One of three double individual champions last season, Olson will attempt to repeat in the 200 and 500 freestyles and is the second seed in both (2:06.67 and 5:37.01, respectively).

Colin Vanderschaaf, Marquette sophomore – Another standout Marquette sophomore, Vanderschaaf is seeded first in the 500 (5:24.65) by more than 12 seconds as well as the breaststroke (1:05.41).

Marquette 200 freestyle relay – A group with no seniors won last season’s event, with senior Hobey Manson, junior Bobby Caron and McFarren back as possibilities to swim it this weekend.

Cameron Bauers, Sault Ste. Marie senior – Last season’s diving runner-up also swam on the winning 200 medley relay and is slated to swim the 50 on Saturday as well. He also was fourth in diving as a sophomore and third as a freshman.

PHOTO: Swimmers launch during a race at the 2019 Upper Peninsula Finals at Marquette High School. (Click for more from Jarvinen Photos.)

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.)