Preview: Fast Finals in Weekend Forecast

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 25, 2021

Lower Peninsula boys swimming & diving has come back in a big, or rather really fast, way this winter.

The sport was halted days before last season’s MHSAA Finals. But contenders have sped through this season at an impressive pace – and have loaded this weekend’s championship meets with plenty of storylines.

Diving is Friday and all swimming Saturday – click for more meet details (and note that in Division 3 all diving is at Hamilton High School and all swimming at the Holland Aquatic Center). Because of the large numbers of participants, spectators are not allowed this weekend – but both days of all three meets will be streamed live and viewable with subscription on

Here’s a glance at team and individual favorites:

Lower Peninsula Division 1 at Hudsonville

Top-ranked teams: 1. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 2. Holland West Ottawa, 3. Detroit Catholic Central.

With no Finals competed in 2020, Holland West Ottawa remains the reigning champion – and is expected to give a mighty Pioneer team its strongest competition. Pioneer is seeking its first championship since 2009 and first top-two Finals finish since 2011, and enters with all three relays and 25 individual entries seeded to score plus three divers competing. West Ottawa will have all three relays competing with 11 individual entries seeded to score. DCC was the runner-up to West Ottawa at that most recent Finals two seasons ago, and the Shamrocks will attempt to earn their first championship with all three relays and 12 entries seeded to score and one diver competing.

Matt Adanin, Saline junior – He’s the favorite in the backstroke at his first Finals with a seed time of 49.94, and he’s also seeded third in the 200-yard freestyle (1:42.76).

Conner Halberg, Northville senior – After also qualifying as a top contender in the 500 and 200 freestyles last season, Halberg enters this weekend top-seeded in the 500 (4:36.8) and second-seeded in the 200 (1:40.94).

Dane Herrick, Lake Orion senior – The top seed in the 50 (21.01) and fourth seed in the 100 freestyle (46.82) also was slated to contend in both in 2020.

Ryan Hume, Ann Arbor Pioneer junior – Slated to swim other races last season, Hume is a favorite in his pair of individual events this weekend with the top seed in the individual medley (1:52.58) and second seed in the 500 (4:37.74).

Matthew Segal, Ann Arbor Pioneer senior – He earned a third in the 200 freestyle and fourth in the breaststroke as a sophomore and was the favorite in the breaststroke and second-seeded in the IM last season. He comes into this weekend seeded first in both the 200 free (1:39.62) and breaststroke (53.99), the latter with a time only four tenths of a second off the all-division/class Finals record.

Fletcher Smith, Huron Valley United junior – He qualified in the backstroke and butterfly last year and this weekend should contend in both with the top seed in the butterfly (50.58) and seventh in the 200 free.

Jack VanHowe, Rochester junior – A backstroke contender and 100 free qualifier a year ago, he is the top seed in the 100 (46.35) and second seed in the backstroke (50.02) this time.

Ann Arbor Pioneer’s 400 freestyle relay – The Pioneers’ top seed time of 3:04.99 is 2.9 seconds faster than the field and 2.93 seconds off the all-division/class Finals record.  

Cole Tremewan, Ann Arbor Pioneer senior – He finished fifth at the Finals as a freshman and second as a sophomore, and his 507.55 Regional score last week was nearly 27 points higher than the next contender’s total and one of only five scores across the three Regionals above 400.

Lower Peninsula Division 2 at Jenison

Top-ranked teams: 1. Birmingham Seaholm, 2. Grosse Pointe South, 3. Ann Arbor Skyline. 

The Maples will be competing for a first team championship since winning back-to-back in 2014 and 2015 and enter the weekend with all three relays and 13 entries seeded to score plus three divers competing. Grosse Pointe South will make a run at its first team title since 1968, boasting all three relays and nine entries seeded to score and a diver competing. Skyline chased Pioneer during the regular season and could join its neighbor as a champion with all three relays and 10 entries seeded to score, plus a diver. Skyline won the Division 1 championship in 2018.

Aidan Boldt, St. Clair Shores Lakeview senior – He finished fourth in the 200 and 500 freestyles as a sophomore and had top-three seeds in both heading into last year’s Finals. This weekend he has the top seed in the 200 (1:42.16) and second seed in the 500 (4:39.05).

Gianni Carlino, Grosse Pointe North junior – He and Boldt will be chasing each other; Carlino also was expected to contend in the 200 and 500 freestyles last season and has the second seed in the 200 (1:42.90) and top seed in the 500 (4:38.84) this weekend.

Michael Grover, Byron Center junior – He made a jump to the fifth seed in the breaststroke in 2020 and this time is the top seed in that race (56.73) and eighth seed in the IM.

Jack Hamilton, Berkley senior – Hamilton has another chance to build on his backstroke championship and third place in the IM as a sophomore. He’s the top seed in the backstroke (49.30) for the third season in a row and this time by nearly two seconds, and he’s also the second seed in the IM (1:51.94).

Trevor Jones, Farmington senior – The top-seeded contender in both the IM (1:51.79) and 100 free (45.55) was ninth in the butterfly in Division 1 as a sophomore and expected to contend in the butterfly and 200 free in Division 2 last season.

Avery LeTourneau, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior – He was seeded to score in both the 200 free and butterfly last season and is again, this time sixth in the 200 and the favorite in the butterfly (49.69).

Micah Scheffer, Temperance Bedford junior – After taking fifth in the 50 and 11th in the 100 freestyle as a freshman, Scheffer was seeded eighth in both the 50 and butterfly last season. But this weekend he’s moved up to the top seed in the 50 (21.07) and third in the butterfly (50.72).

Kameron Liberman, Birmingham Seaholm senior – His 525.45 was the highest in all of Division 3’s Regionals last week. He improved from 12th at the Finals as a freshman to fifth as a sophomore.

Lower Peninsula Division 3 at Holland Aquatic Center/Hamilton

Top-ranked teams: 1. East Grand Rapids, 2. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 3. Holland Christian. 

Even after the year off, there are some interesting streaks worth noting in this division. The 2018 and 2019 Division 3 Finals ended with Holland Christian as champion and East Grand Rapids as runner-up, and the Pioneers have actually finished second four straight seasons and last won the team title in 2013. Cranbrook was the champion four straight seasons from 2014-17. The Pioneers will bring potentially the two strongest divers plus all three relays and 13 entries seeded to score, while Cranbrook will lean on three relays and nine entries seeded among the top 16 in their events. Holland Christian’s three-peat could rely on three relays and 10 top-16 individual entries, plus a diver.

Charles Brown, Spring Lake junior – Brown has jumped from an expected middle-placing sprinter in 2020 to a major contender with the second-fastest 50 seed time (21.14) and best in the butterfly (51.08).

Jonas Cantrell, Mason senior – Cantrell is another of a handful of past champions getting another shot as he’s seeded first in both the 200 (1:40.01) and 500 (4:34.97) freestyles after winning the 500 and finishing third in the 200 as a sophomore.

Andrew Dobrzanski, Milan junior – Dobrzanski also is a past champion, having won the breaststroke and taken second in the IM in 2019. He’s seeded first in both this weekend with seed times of 54.79 and 1:50.87, respectively.

Colin Kalkman, Holland Christian senior – Kalkman was third in the IM and fifth in the backstroke and part of a championship relay two seasons ago, and he returns as the top seed in the 100 free (47.04) and second in the backstroke (53.04).

Tyler Ray, Pinckney junior – He was off to a great start with an eighth in the butterfly and 12th in the backstroke as a freshman and qualified for both in Division 2 a year ago. Back in Division 3 this weekend, he’s seeded first in the backstroke (52.95) and second in the butterfly (51.44).

Jacob Ryan, Detroit Country Day senior – He has posted a combined three top-eight Finals finishes in the 50 or 100 freestyles and was expected to pick up two more last season. He could be in for a big high school finale seeded first in the 50 (21.01) and second in the 100 (48.02) this weekend.

Charley Bayer, East Grand Rapids junior – Pioneers divers posted the two highest total scores at Regionals, with Bayer edging senior teammate Billy Kirchgessner. Bayer was eighth as a freshman in 2019, when then-sophomore Kirchgessner finished third, and both were slated to dive last season as well.

PHOTO: Matthew Segal, here against Ann Arbor Huron on Feb. 25, brings a pair of individual top seeds into the Division 1 Finals as he attempts to help top-ranked Pioneer secure its first team title since 2009. (Photo courtesy of We Love Ann Arbor.)

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.)