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

By Geoff Kimmerly 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

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

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.)