Preview: Powerful Teams, Potential Record Setters Ready to Set Pace

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 10, 2022

An anticipation of dominance accompanies this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Boys Swimming & Diving Finals.

In Division 1, Ann Arbor Pioneer is loaded with high seeds as it attempts to repeat as champion. A closer team race is expected in Division 2, but Ann Arbor Skyline enters with similar high-seed credentials. And East Grand Rapids is the favorite again in Division 3 as its seeks Finals win No. 27. At least three relay records appear in the running to be broken, and we’ll say good-bye to some accomplished individual standouts including a pair of past champions in Division 3.

Preliminaries at all three Finals sites begin at noon Friday, with swimming and then diving, with Saturday championship events starting at noon. Tickets cost $11 each day and may be purchased for Divisions 2 and 3 exclusively at GoFan. (Division 1 tickets were assigned two per participant.) Both days of all three meets will be streamed live and viewable with subscription on MHSAA.tv

Here’s a glance at team and individual favorites:

LP Division 1 at Holland Aquatics

Reigning champion: Ann Arbor Pioneer
2021 runner-up: Holland West Ottawa
2022 top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 2. Northville, 3. Holland West Ottawa

The Pioneers have been considered the favorites to repeat all season long. They enter this weekend top-seeded in all three relays with five more top seeds over their 20 total individual entries seeded to score. West Ottawa, the 2019 champion, is expected to be back in the mix at the top with all three relays and six individual entries seeded to score. Northville jumped into the second spot in the final coaches association rankings and has a strong case with all three relays and 13 individual entries seeded to score. Pioneer and Northville also both have one diver competing.

Joshua Brunty, Saline senior: The top seed in the 100-yard breaststroke (57.02) also may swim on two top-four seeded relays. He was second in the breaststroke last season and swam on winning and runner-up relays. He also finished 13th in the 50 freestyle and will swim that again this weekend.

Ryan Gurgel, Canton junior: After placing third in the 200 individual medley and ninth in the 100 butterfly in 2021, he enters this weekend the top seed in the 200 freestyle (1:41.96) and seventh in the butterfly.

Ryan Hume, Ann Arbor Pioneer senior: Last season’s champion in the IM and runner-up in the 500 freestyle is the top seed in both at 1:50.92 and 4:33.39, respectively.

Kevin Maas, Holland West Ottawa senior: He won the 50, tied for second in the 100 free and swam on the winning 200 freestyle relay as a junior, and returns this weekend as the second seed in the 50 (21.14) and breaststroke (57.79) while likely also swimming on two of three third-seeded relays.

Gabriel Sanchez-Burks, Ann Arbor Pioneer junior: He competed at last season’s Finals in the 50, finishing 19th in qualifying, but he’s moved all the way up to having the top seed in that race this weekend (21.05) and the eighth seed in the 100.

Fletcher Smith, Huron Valley United senior: The reigning champion in the butterfly and seventh-place finisher in the 200 free, Smith is seeded fourth in the 200 (1:42.85) and third in the butterfly (50.35) this weekend.

Jack VanHowe, Rochester senior: The reigning champ in the backstroke is seeded first in that race (48.62) and third in the 100 free (46.19) after tying with Maas for second in that race a year ago.

Jack Wilkening, Ann Arbor Pioneer senior: He’ll look to build on his third place in the 100 backstroke and seventh place in the 50 from last season entering this weekend as the top seed in the 100 free (45.88) and second seed in the backstroke (49.17).

Robert Yang, Ann Arbor Pioneer senior: He’s the top seed in the butterfly (50.08) and 11th in the 50 and likely to swim on two top-seeded relays after finishing eighth in the butterfly and ninth in the 100 free in 2021.

Ann Arbor Pioneer’s 200 free relay: The expected lineup of Sanchez-Burks, seniors Harrison Sanders and Alex Farmer and Hume have a seed time of 1:23.97 that would rank as fifth-fastest in LPD1 Finals history and is just more than a second off the all-Finals record of 1:22.8 swam by Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice in 1996.

Alex Poulin, Waterford United junior: Last season’s third-place diver won his Regional this time by 80.45 points with the highest score, 469.75, at any Division 1 Regional by 23.45.

LP Division 2 at Oakland University

Reigning champion: Birmingham Seaholm
2021 runner-up: Grosse Pointe South
2022 top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Skyline, 2. Grosse Pointe South, 3. Detroit U-D Jesuit

The preseason and midseason rankings both read Jesuit, South, Skyline, respectively, before Skyline jumped to the front heading into this week. Skyline was fourth in Division 2 last season and last won a Finals in 2018 in Division 1. Two of three Eagles relays are top seeded, as are four individual entries, and combined all three relays and 16 individual entries are seeded to score. South has all three relays and 11 individual entries seeded to score, plus the top-scoring diver from Regionals. Jesuit, which finished third last season, has all three relays and 11 individual entries seeded to score. Skyline also has a diver competing.

Christian Bouchillon, Detroit U-D Jesuit senior: He’s the top seed in the backstroke (50.17) and 10th in the IM after finishing 10th in the IM and fourth in the backstroke last season.

Charlie Bruce, Detroit U-D Jesuit senior: He won the 50, finished fourth in the 100 and swam on the winning medley relay in 2021, and enters this weekend seeded second in the butterfly (50.32) and fifth in the 50 (21.38).

Gianni Carlino, Grosse Point North senior: The reigning champion in the 500 is seeded first (4:39.51) in that race and second in the 200 free (1:43.30) after finishing sixth in the 200 last year.  

Drew Collins, Detroit U-D Jesuit senior: He’s the reigning champ in the backstroke and was fourth in the 200 free last season. He enters this weekend seeded second in the backstroke (51.02) and fifth in the IM (1:55.67).

Michael Grover, Byron Center senior: The reigning breaststroke champion is seeded first (56.08) in that race and eighth in the IM after taking seventh in the latter last season.

Ben Kurniawan, Ann Arbor Skyline senior: He returns after finishing fifth in both the butterfly and IM in 2021. He’s seeded first in the butterfly (49.50) and second in the IM (1:54.42) with a chance at a pair of relay records as well.

Matthew Lee, Ann Arbor Skyline senior: He’s seeded first in the 50 (20.66) and second in the 100 free (45.61), coming off a 12th in the 50 last season. He also could be part of two record relays.

Evan McKelvey, Ann Arbor Skyline senior: He finished seventh in the 100 and fifth in the 200 as a junior and returns this weekend as the top seeds in both (49.69 and 1:39.77, respectively) and a possible leg of both record-pursuing relays.

Drew Vandeputte, Grosse Point South senior: He finished ninth in the IM and seventh in the breaststroke last season while also swimming on a winning relay. He returns as the top seed in the IM (1:54.30), fifth in the breaststroke (57.34) and as part of a top-seeded medley relay.

Ann Arbor Skyline’s 200 freestyle relay: The expected lineup of McKelvey, junior Jack Staunton, Kurniawan and Lee enters with a seed time of 1:23.69, which would best the LPD2 record by four tenths of a second.

Ann Arbor Skyline’s 400 freestyle relay: McKelvey, freshman Lucas Caswell, Kurniawan and Lee have a seed time of 3:04.36, which would break the LPD2 record by 37 hundredths of a second.  

Logan Hepner, Grosse Pointe South junior: Last season’s diving runner-up won his Regional by nearly 55 points with a score of 548.15, the best at any Division 2 Regional by 49.05 points.

LP Division 3 at Calvin University

Reigning champion: East Grand Rapids
2021 runner-up: Holland Christian
2022 top-ranked: 1. East Grand Rapids, 2. Holland Christian, 3. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood

East Grand Rapids will look to add to its record 26 Lower Peninsula Finals championships, making the short drive with all three relays and 12 individual entries seeded to score plus the reigning Finals champion diver and another competing. Holland Christian will attempt to take back the top spot after most recently winning back-to-back in 2018-19. The Maroons also have all three relays and 12 individual entries seeded to score, plus two divers competing. Cranbrook most recently won four straight Finals from 2014-17, and finished third last season. The Cranes have all three relays but only seven individual entries seeded to score – although two are top seeds.

Erik Bolang, Pinckney senior: This will be his second Finals as he swam the IM and 500 as a freshman, and Bolang enters this time as the top seed in the IM (1:54.84) and second seed to teammate Tyler Ray in the butterfly (49.66). He’s also slated to swim on the top-seeded medley relay.

Charles Brown, Spring Lake senior: He’s hoping to take the final step after finishing second in both the 50 and butterfly last season. Brown is seeded first in the 50 (20.54) and third in the butterfly (49.68).

Andrew Dobrzanski, Milan senior: The reigning breaststroke and IM champion also won the former as a sophomore and set the LPD3 Finals record in that race of 54.67 last season. This time he is seeded first in the 200 free (1:41.56) and second in the breaststroke (56.26).

Tyler Ray, Pinckney senior: The reigning butterfly champion could double or triple his individual championship number as the top seed in both that race (48.89) and the backstroke (50.34). He’s also part of that top-seeded medley relay.

Ethan Schwab, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood junior: Last season’s runner-up in the 500 and breaststroke (and a medley relay champion), Schwab is seeded first in both individual races in 4:43.42 and 55.59, respectively.

Ben Sytsma, Grand Rapids Christian sophomore: He finished seventh in the 50 and swam on three scoring relays as a freshman, and this weekend enters as the top seed in the 100 free (46.41), second in the 50 (21.06) and as part of top-seeded 200 and 400 freestyle relays.

Charley Bayer, East Grand Rapids senior: The reigning champion diver posted a score of 520.80 to win his Regional by 97.3 points and pace all of Division 3 by 38 points.

PHOTO A pair of swimmers launch side-by-side during a relay at last season's Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Local Dominance Achieved Again, Dow Sets Sights on Statewide Success

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

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 paulcostanzo3@gmail.com 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.)