Preview: Team Titles Too Close to Call

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 7, 2019

The races for team championships at this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Boys Swimming & Diving Finals could, as a group, finish as the closest in recent memory.

Both Division 1 and Division 3 have a pair of teams tied for the top spot in the rankings heading into Friday’s preliminaries. Meanwhile, Dexter is the three-time reigning Division 2 champion but extended its streak with a slim victory a year ago.

Preliminaries are Friday and Finals are Saturday, with action beginning at noon for both. All three Finals also will be streamed live and can be watched with subscription on Click for lineups and seed times for all three meets, and see below for a number of team and individual contenders at all three meets.

LP Division 1 at Holland Aquatic Center

Reigning champion: Ann Arbor Skyline
2018 runner-up: Holland West Ottawa
2019 top-ranked: T-1. Holland West Ottawa, T-1. Detroit Catholic Central, 3. Birmingham Rice 

Skyline won it first championship last season, breaking a four-year winning streak by Brother Rice. West Ottawa finished 67 points back, and a championship this weekend – the program’s first since 1971 – would be a crowning achievement for a senior class that has otherwise dominated. West Ottawa has 12 individual entries and all three relays seeded to score among the top 16, with five top seeds. Detroit Catholic Central has only one top seed, but 11 individual entries and all three relays seeded to score plus a diver. Rice has nine individual entries and three relays seeded to score, plus a diver. The Shamrocks are competing for their first MHSAA Finals title and finished seventh a year ago, while Rice finished third a year ago.

Hunter Gubeno, Howell junior – After taking fifth in the 500 last season, Gubeno is expected to climb the podium multiple times with the top seeds in that race by four seconds (4:33.82) and the 200 free (1:40.98).

Derek Maas, Holland West Ottawa senior – Maas won the 100 backstroke and finished third in the 200 individual medley as a junior and also swam on the champion 200 medley relay. He has the top seeds in the IM (1:52.73) and butterfly (50.23) and is expected to swim on the top-seeded medley relay (1:34.28) and fourth-seeded 400 free relay.

Liam McDonell, Birmingham Brother Rice senior – The top seed in the backstroke (51.93) also will swim the butterfly and on the 200 medley and 400 free relays. He finished 12th in the backstroke at last year’s Finals.

Henry Schutte, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior – The four-time Finals champion sprinter is looking to add a few more titles to his two in both the 50 and 100 freestyles won the last two seasons. He’s seeded first in the 50 at 20.35 seconds, 34 hundredths off his all-Finals record 20.01 swam last season. He’s also seeded first in the 100 at 44.27 and is expected to swim on the third-seeded 200 freestyle relay and ninth-seeded 200 medley relay.

Khadin Soto, Holland West Ottawa senior – Soto finished sixth in the breaststroke and also was part of that medley relay championship in 2018. He’s seeded first in the breaststroke (56.17) and sixth in the 200 freestyle, and is slated to swim on the 200 medley and fourth-seeded 400 freestyle relays.

Holland West Ottawa 200 freestyle relay – Senior Sam Smith, juniors Gavin Temple and Jamahl Hogan and freshman Kevin Maas enter with the top seed time of 1:25.16, 1.48 seconds off the meet record swam in 2015 by Ann Arbor Pioneer.

William Henry Schirmer, Ann Arbor Skyline senior – Schirmer is seeking to finish his high school career with his third straight Division 1 championship. His Regional score of 529.20 was nearly 47 points higher than the rest of the Division 1 field, and he should make a run at the meet record of 528.45 achieved in 2015.

Division 2 at Eastern Michigan University

Reigning champion: Dexter
2018 runner-up: Rochester Adams
2019 top-ranked: 1. Dexter, 2. Birmingham Seaholm, 3. Birmingham Groves. 

Dexter has won three straight Division 2 championships, last season’s by 21.5 points. The Dreadnaughts have 10 individual entries and all three relays seeded to score this weekend, plus two divers competing. Seaholm, which finished fifth last season, has 11 individual entries and all three relays seeded to score. Groves was third last season, 50.5 points off the lead, and could make a move with eight individual entries and three relays seeded to score, including a top seed. 

Alexander Capizzo, Fraser junior – Capizzo won the 200 IM and 500 freestyle as both a freshman and sophomore. He’s the top seed in the IM (1:53.79) and the third seed in the 500 (4:41.08).

Niklas Eberly, Dexter senior – Eberly won the butterfly and 200 free last season and was on the winning 200 free relay. Switching things up a bit, he’s seeded second in the 50 (21.06) and first in the butterfly (49.13) and is expected to swim on the top-seeded 400 free relay (3:12.07) and fourth-seeded medley relay.

Jacob Grover, Byron Center senior – Grover is competing in Division 2 this weekend after finishing second in the breaststroke and fourth in the IM in Division 3 in 2018. He is seeded first in the breaststroke (57.61) and third in the IM (1:55.13) and will swim on the medley and 200 freestyle relays.

Eric Hieber, Walled Lake Western junior – After finishing ninth in the 200 free and fifth in the 500 last year, Hieber is expected to make a big jump. He’s seeded first in both races, at 1:40.68 in the 200 and by nine seconds in the 500 at 4:31.73. He also is expected to swim on the 200 and 400 free relays.

Luke Lezotte, Midland Dow junior – In his first season at Dow after moving from Florida, Lezotte will chase at least one meet record. He’s seeded first in both sprints – his 20.52 in the 50 is seven hundredths of a second off the record achieved in 2010 – and he’s seeded first in the 100 free (46.12) by more than a second. He’s also slated to swim on the top-seeded 200 free relay (1:27.38) and second-seeded medley relay.

Tyler Vo, Holland senior – Vo finished sixth in the backstroke last season but is seeded first in that race this weekend (52.23). He’s also seeded fifth in the butterfly (52.46) and expected to swim on the 200 free and medley relays.

Hunter Hollenbeck, Okemos junior – The reigning champion scored 548.40 to win his Regional by nearly 146 points, and his score was 90 higher than any other diver in Division 2. He scored 503.15 at last season’s Final and could make a run at the meet record of 537 from 2009.

Division 3 at Oakland University

Reigning champion: Holland Christian
2018 runner-up: East Grand Rapids
2019 top-ranked: T-1. Holland Christian, T-1. East Grand Rapids, 3. Spring Lake. 

A year ago, Holland Christian broke Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood’s four-year hold on the Division 3 title. East Grand Rapids is hoping to break a streak of three straight runner-up finishes by taking the next step. Holland Christian is talented and deep, with 15 individual entries and all three relays seeded to score (with two top seeds) plus a diver competing. East Grand Rapids also has 15 individual entries and three relays seeded to score, plus a diver. Spring Lake has only seven individual entries with its three relays seeded to score – but six top seeds and an opportunity to make things interesting at the top.

Jonas Cantrell, Mason sophomore – Cantrell is seeded first in the 500 (4:41.86) after finishing 14th a year ago. He’s also seeded third in the 200 freestyle (1:45.44) and slated to swim on the 400 free relay.

Andrew Dobrzanski, Milan freshman – Heading into his first Finals, Dobrzanski is seeded first in the IM (1:57.08) by more than two seconds and the breaststroke (58.01) by more than a second. He’s also expected to swim on the 200 medley and 400 free relays.

Kevin Losee, Spring Lake junior – Losee finished fourth in the 200 and 500 freestyles and as part of two runner-up relays in 2018. He’s seeded first in the 200 (1:43.99) and second in the 500 (4:48.07) and expected to swim on top-seeded 200 (1:25.27) and 400 (3:07.52) freestyle relays.

Cam Peel, Spring Lake senior – Last season’s champ in the 100 free (and third-place finisher in the 50) is seeded first in both with a 20.85 in the 50 and by two seconds with a 44.81 in the 100. The 100 time is 16 hundredths of a second faster than the meet record he swam last season. He’s also slated to swim on the top-seeded 200 and 400 free relays.

Riley VanMeter, Holland Christian senior – He finished second in the butterfly and backstroke last season and swam on two winning relays, and could lead a repeat run entering as the top seed in the butterfly (49.75) and third in the backstroke (52.60) and with spots on the second-seeded 200 and 400 freestyle relays. His butterfly time is six tenths of a second off the meet record set in 2015.

Joey Wachter, Spring Lake junior – After finishing fifth in the backstroke and ninth in the 100 free last season, Wachter also is expected to surge. He’s seeded first in the backstroke (51.15) and second in the 50 (21.09) and also will swim on the 200 and 400 free relays.

Spring Lake 200 freestyle relay – Wachter, senior Sam Sella, Losee and Peel enter with a 1:25.27 seed time, 2.25 seconds off the meet record achieved in 2016.

Spring Lake 400 freestyle relay – Freshman Charles Brown along with Losee, Wachter and Peel have a seed time of 3:07.52, exactly three seconds off the meet record swam by Holland Christian a year ago. 

Caden Petrak, St. Johns senior – The reigning champion won his Regional with a score of 467.85, although it was only the second-highest in Division 3 behind that of East Grand Rapids’ junior Nicholas Merritt (478.45).

PHOTOS: Swimmers prepare to launch at the start of a championship race at the 2017 Lower Peninsula Division 2 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.)