Preview: Reigning Champs Favored, but Potential Rankings Wreckers Await

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 7, 2024

All three of last season’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula swimming & diving team champions are entering this weekend’s Finals ranked No. 1 in their respective divisions.

But while Ann Arbor Pioneer, Birmingham Groves and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood might be starting the race at the forecasted front, there will be plenty of opportunity for shuffling before the final relays finish Saturday afternoon.

Preliminaries at all three Finals sites begin at noon Friday, with Saturday championship events starting at noon as well. Both days of all three meets will be streamed live and viewable with subscription on For information on purchasing tickets, plus psych sheets, dive orders and more, visit the Boys Swimming & Diving page – and see below for a glance at several team and individual contenders to follow.

Division 1 at Oakland University

Reigning champion: Ann Arbor Pioneer
2023 runner-up: Holland West Ottawa
2024 top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Pioneer, 2. Saline, 3. Detroit Catholic Central.

Pioneer has won the last three Division 1 championships, last year by 111 points, and will bring back plenty of scoring power. The 400 freestyle relay is the team’s only top seed, but the other two relays and 14 individual entries are seeded to score (among the top 16), and the Pioneers also have two divers competing. Saline, sixth a year ago, has stayed close to Pioneer this season, losing their dual only 96-90 and finishing only 29 points back at the Southeastern Conference Red meet. The Hornets last won this championship in 2013 and finished runners-up in 2016, and they also have all three relays and 14 individuals seeded to score, with three divers. Detroit Catholic Central finished runner-up in 2019 and is seeking its first team title after placing eighth a year ago. The Shamrocks have three relays and nine individual entries seeded to score, but two of those relays and Luke Mychalowych in his two events are top-seeded.

Olin Charnstrom, Oxford senior: Last season’s champion in the 100-yard backstroke is the top seed in that race (48.50) and the 100 freestyle (45.75) after also finishing fourth in the latter a year ago.

Will Cheney, Rockford senior: He finished fourth in the 50 and tied for 13th in the 100 freestyle last season and enters this weekend the top seed in the 50 (20.82) and fifth-seeded in the 100.

Lucas Hosch, Rochester senior: The top seed in the 100 butterfly (50.51) finished sixth in that race last season and 13th in the 50.

Luke Mychalowych, Detroit Catholic Central senior: He’s the top seed in the 200 freestyle (1:40.62) and 100 breaststroke (55.47) and also part of the top-seeded 200 medley relay (1:33.08) and top-seeded 200 free relay (1:24.67). He finished second in the breaststroke and fourth in the 200 free last season.

Luke Newcomb, Brighton senior: The reigning champion in the breaststroke also finished eighth in the 200 individual medley last season and is seeded second in the breaststroke (55.99) and eighth in the IM this weekend.

Owen Stevens, Zeeland junior: The reigning champion in the IM and 500 freestyle could be in position for a repeat double as the top seed in both races – the IM at 1:51.98 and 500 at 4:29.11.

Edward Zhang, Ann Arbor Pioneer junior: He debuted last season on two championship relays and finishing fifth in the 200 free and sixth in the 500. He returns as the second seed in the 200 (1:40.75) and fourth seed in the breaststroke (57.48) and likely to swim on the top-seeded 400 relay (3:08.32) and second-seeded medley relay (1:34.22).

Julian Cardenas, Rockford senior: The reigning Division 1 diving champion enters this weekend coming off posting the division’s highest Regional score last week (484.70).

Division 2 at Eastern Michigan University

Reigning champion: Birmingham Groves
2023 runner-up: Detroit U-D Jesuit
2024 top-ranked: 1. Birmingham Groves, 2. Farmington, 3. Birmingham Seaholm.

Groves moved up from No. 3 to No. 1 in the final team rankings as it looks to follow up last season’s seven-point win over U-D Jesuit, which has finished runner-up the last two seasons and is ranked No. 5. The Falcons have all three relays and 12 individual entries seeded to score this weekend, including top seeds for one relay and four individual races. Farmington finished seventh a year ago and is seeking its first team title with all three relays and 11 individual entries seeded to score, including two relay favorites and a top-seeded individual. Seaholm last won the team title in 2021 and finished third a year ago. The Maples also have all three relays and 11 individual entries seeded to score.

Leland Curanovic, Farmington senior: He’s looking to build on last year’s sixth place in the 50 and ninth place in the 100 freestyle, entering this weekend as the top seed in the 200 free (1:41.48) and second seed in the 100 (47.08).

Troy Liu, Grosse Pointe South senior: He’s the reigning champion in the 100 free and finished fourth in the 50 last winter, and enters this weekend the top seed in both at 20.88 in the 50 and 46.19 in the 100.

Gus MacDonald, Birmingham Groves senior: He played a big part in Groves’ team title last season winning the breaststroke, finishing second in the IM and swimming on first and third-place relays. He’s the top seed in the breaststroke (57.11), second seed in the IM (1:51.21) and is likely to swim on two contending relays including the top-seeded 200 medley (1:34.34).

Josh Martin, Mattawan junior: He could make a nice jump after finishing fourth in the butterfly and ninth in the 50 last season, entering this weekend seeded third in the 50 (21.37) and first in the butterfly (50.02).

Joey Stebbins, Birmingham Groves senior: Stebbins also played a major role in Groves’ 2023 success finishing fourth in both the IM and backstroke and swimming on the same relays with MacDonald. He’s the top seed this time in the IM (1:50.92) and backstroke (49.13) and is slated to swim on two contending relays including the 200 medley as well.

Nathan Stebbins, Birmingham Groves sophomore: He’s entering his second Finals as the top seed in the 500 (4:47.59), sixth seed in the IM and as a part of two top-three relays after finishing sixth in the 500 and just outside the final heats in the 200 free last year.

Robby Russo, Jenison senior: Last season’s fourth-place finisher in diving – and highest among non-seniors at his meet – scored the highest Regional total in Division 2 last week, 458.60.

Division 3 at Holland Aquatic Center

Reigning champion: Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood
2023 runner-up: East Grand Rapids
2024 rankings: 1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 2. East Grand Rapids, 3. Holland Christian.

Cranbrook broke up the EGR/Holland Christian hold on the top spots last season, taking its first title since 2017 after EGR and Holland Christian had finished first and second in some order at the previous four Finals. One of those three teams has won this championship every year beginning with 2013 (not counting 2020, when Finals were canceled due to COVID-19). The Cranes edged the Pioneers by 12 points in 2023 and return this weekend with an overwhelming three relays and 23 entries seeded to score, plus a diver, and with all three relays and an individual top-seeded. EGR has three relays and nine individuals seeded to score, with four divers competing, and Holland Christian has three relays and eight individuals seeded to score and three divers in the mix.

Andrew Delzer, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood senior: He’s finishing up his only high school season as the top seed in the breaststroke (58.15) and fourth seed in the 50 and likely to swim on the top-seeded 200 medley (1:32.83) and 400 freestyle (3:08.37) relays.

Hadyn Gould, Adrian senior: After finishing seventh in both the IM and backstroke as a junior, he enters this weekend the top seed in both at 1:51.37 and 49.25, respectively.

Carter Kegle, East Grand Rapids senior: He’s claimed the 500 championship the last two seasons and also was second in the 200 free and swam on a winning relay last year. He’s seeded first in the 500 (4:38.94) and third in the 200 free (1:42.32) this weekend.

Alec Lampen, Manistee senior: The reigning champion in the backstroke and runner-up in the 50 is seeded second in both in 50.34 and 20.79, respectively.

London Rising, Adrian sophomore: He won the 200 freestyle and finished third in the butterfly as a freshman, and returns as the top seed in the 200 (1:40.66) and third seed in the butterfly (50.74).

Liam Smith, Otsego sophomore: He also debuted last year as a champion winning the butterfly and finishing third in the IM, and this weekend he’s seeded first in the butterfly (49.12) and second in the IM (1:53.42).

Ben Sytsma, East Grand Rapids senior: He enters his last Finals with two individual titles and two relay championships, last season winning the 50 and finishing second in the 100 free after winning the latter as a sophomore. He’s seeded first in both individual races in 20.42 and 44.92, respectively.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood 200 medley relay: The expected lineup of seniors Delzer, Colin Zexter and Will Farner and junior Joseph Wiater have a seed time of 1:32.83, which would break the meet record of 1:33.01 set by Holland Christian in 2018.

Mitch Brown, Chelsea senior: Last season’s diving champion by more than 51 points also just missed qualifying for the final heats as part of his team’s 200 medley relay. His diving Regional score last week of 546 points topped all divisions, and his 200 medley relay is seeded 16th.

PHOTO Plainwell's Sam Harper, Adrian’s London Rising, East Grand Rapids’ Carter Kegle and Cranbrook’s Will Farner are among those launching to start last season’s 200 freestyle championship race during the LP Division 3 Finals at Oakland University. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)