Preview: Winning Streaks Challenged

March 8, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A handful or reigning champions have dominated Lower Peninsula boys swimming & diving these last few seasons – but that could end this weekend.

A year ago, Birmingham Brother Rice in Division 1 and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood in Division 3 became two of three teams over the last 20 years to win four straight MHSAA LP boys swimming & diving titles. Dexter, in Division 2, also repeated as a team champion.

But two of those are not considered the favorites entering this weekend’s Finals, and it’s not hard to see a path for three new champions. Read on for a look at how the races stack up in all three divisions, plus some of the individuals who are expected to shine brightest.

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 MHSAA.TV. Click for lineups and seed times for all three meets. 

LP Division 1 at Eastern Michigan University

Reigning champion: Birmingham Brother Rice
2017 runner-up: Ann Arbor Skyline
2018 top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Skyline, 2. Holland West Ottawa, 3. Birmingham Brother Rice.

For the first time in a long time, there’s a feeling Brother Rice’s reign might end. The Warriors have won four straight LPD1 team titles and have some stars in the pool this weekend – but only five individual entries joining three relays seeded among the top 16. Skyline finished second last season by 26 points and is seeking its first championship with 12 individual entries and all three relays seeded to score, plus two divers including the reigning champ. West Ottawa was the runner-up in 2015 and is seeking its first team title since 1971. The Panthers have 11 entries and all three relays seeded to score after coming in fifth – but just 48 points back – last season. Saline, ranked No. 4 this week, came in third last year 36 points back and could be in the mix as well.

Matt Lau, Saline senior – After finishing first in the breaststroke and 10th in the 50 last season, enters seeded ninth in the breaststroke (58.27) and also will swim the 50 again.

Derek Maas, Holland West Ottawa senior – Missed what would’ve been his first Finals title by finishing second in the backstroke last season, along with seventh in the individual medley, but enters this weekend seeded first in backstroke (50.94), fourth in IM (1:53.23) and as an option for all three relays but a likely leader of the top-seeded 200 medley (1:33.77).

Michael MacGillivray, Ann Arbor Skyline senior – Placed fourth in both the IM and breaststroke last season, but is seeded first in both the IM (1:49.97) and breaststroke (55.23) this time with a spot on the top-seeded 400 freestyle relay (3:09.67) as well.

Alex Margherio, Birmingham Brother Rice senior – Added a backstroke and relay title last season to another relay win in 2016, and this time is seeded second in the butterfly (50.47) and fourth in the 50 (21.22).

Jacob Newberger, Rockford senior – Won the consolation heats of both the IM and butterfly last season to finish ninth in both, but enters this weekend seeded first in the butterfly (50.34) and second in the backstroke (51.10).

Adam Orringer-Hau, Ann Arbor Pioneer senior – Earned part of a relay championship as a sophomore and finished third in the 200 freestyle and seventh in the butterfly last season; he’s seeded first in the 200 (1:39.08) and third in the 100 freestyle (45.86).

Ben Rojewski, Livonia Stevenson junior – Placed third in the 500 freestyle and 13th in the 200 a year ago and has jumped up to the top seed in the 500 (4:35.89) and 11th in the 200.

Henry Schutte, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central junior – Last season’s 50 and 100 freestyle champion is seeded first in both at 20.28 and 44.92, respectively, and should threaten the meet record of 20.26 in the former.

Henry Schirmer, Ann Arbor Skyline junior – Last season’s champion by more than 53 points won his Regional last week by 50 with the highest score in all of Division 1 at 522.35.

LP Division 2 at Oakland University

Reigning champion: Dexter
2017 runner-up: Ann Arbor Huron
2018 top-ranked: 1. Dexter, 2. Rochester Adams, 3. Birmingham Seaholm.

Dexter is competing for its third straight LPD2 title after finishing 27.5 points ahead of the field last season (and with runner-up Ann Arbor Huron now in LPD1 instead). The Dreadnaughts have only their three relays and seven individual entries seeded to score, but some depth including a few individuals who could break into the top 16. Rochester Adams is seeking its first title after placing 10th a year ago. All three relays are seeded to score, as are 12 individual entries, and the Highlanders boast a Regional champ diver as well. Seaholm finished third in 2017, 88.5 points back, but won this meet in 2011, 2014 and 2015. The Maples have all three relays and 11 individuals seeded to score, plus a diver, and enough high seeds to make this interesting at the top.

Michael Arpasi, Birmingham Seaholm senior – Last season’s butterfly champion also has three relay titles to his credit, and enters the weekend seeded first in the 50 (21.08), butterfly (50.01) and as part of the 200 medley relay (1:35.26).

Alexander Capizzo, Fraser sophomore – After claiming both the IM and 500 championships as a freshman, Capizzo will attempt to repeat entering as the second seed in the IM (1:55.56) and third in the 500 (4:35.50).

Daniel Frederick, Warren DeLaSalle senior – Finished fourth in the 500 and seventh in the 200 freestyle a year ago, but carries the top seed in the 200 (1:41.76) and second in the 500 (4:35.44) into this weekend.

Eric Hieber, Walled Lake Western sophomore – After finishing 14th in the 500 and not qualifying for the final heats in the 200 in 2017, Hieber has the top seed in the 500 (4:23.71) by nearly three seconds and the sixth seed in the 200 (1:43.41).

Matthew Koueiter, Grosse Pointe South senior – Placed fourth in the breaststroke and 15th in the butterfly as a junior, but is pointing toward a strong finish with the top seed in the breaststroke (58.25) and fourth seed in the butterfly (52.48).

Jason Krzciok, Midland Dow senior – Enters seeded second in the 50 (21.25) and third in the 100 (46.97) and as part of the top-seeded 200 freestyle relay (1:26.48) after finishing ninth in the 50 and fourth in the 100 in 2017. 

Zach Milke, Warren DeLaSalle senior – Added a backstroke title last year to his relay championship in 2016, and also took sixth in the 50; he’s seeded first in the 100 freestyle (46.05) by three-quarters of a second, first in the backstroke (50.37) by more than a second and will swim on the top-seeded 400 freestyle relay (3:11.23).

Owen Miller, Portage Central junior – Finished first in the 200 free and third in the 500 a year ago and is seeded second in the 200 (1:42.12) and sixth in the 500 (4:39.99) this time.

Zane Rosely, Walled Lake Northern sophomore – Scored points taking 13th in the IM and 15th in the 500 last season, but is expected to score a lot more with the top seed in the IM (1:53.80) and the fifth in the 500 (4:37.25).

Levi Youmans, Battle Creek Lakeview senior – Won the diving competition last season by more than 30 points and took second at his Regional last week with 443.90 – which ranked second in all of Division 2 as well.

LP Division 3 at Saginaw Valley State University

Reigning champion: Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood
2017 runner-up: East Grand Rapids
2018 top-ranked: 1. Holland Christian, 2. East Grand Rapids, 3. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood.

If rankings are correct, another major streak will end as Cranbrook has won the last four LPD3 titles. Holland Christian came in third last season, just 26.5 points back, and East Grand Rapids was second trailing by 13. Christian enters this weekend with 17 individual entries and three relays seeded to score, including an astounding six top seeds. East Grand Rapids has nine entries and three relays seeded to score, but plenty of depth and two divers including a Regional champ. Cranbrook will work to contend again with all three relays and six individual entries seeded among the top 16.

Christian Bart, East Grand Rapids senior – The reigning champ in the breaststroke and 50 free has three individual and two relay titles total over his career, and enters this weekend seeded first in the 50 (20.68) and second in the breaststroke (58.09). That qualifying time in the 50 is four hundredths of a second off the meet record he swam in 2017.

Nolan Briggs, Byron Center senior – The reigning champion in the butterfly is seeded third this time (50.84); he also was fourth in the 50 last season and is seeded second (21.06) behind Bart in that race.

Skyler Cook-Weeks, Holland Christian senior – He’s won the 500 the last two seasons and added a relay title last year as well. Cook-Weeks is seeded first in the 500 (4:35.90) and 200 (1:38.61) and as part of a top-seeded 400 relay (3:07.47) that could make a move on the meet record of 3:06.15.

Kevin Hao, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood senior Enters seeded third in both the breaststroke (58.73) and IM (1:55.18) after finishing fifth in the breaststroke and second in the IM last season.

Luke Mason, Holland Christian senior – He’ll look to add to last season’s 200 IM and relay titles, entering this weekend as the second seed in the 200 free (1:41.94) and sixth seed in the 500 (4:50.85).

Ian Miskelley, Holland Christian senior – Swimming his first season in high school (he previously attended Holland Black River, which doesn’t have the sport), Miskelley has shown why he’s been known as one of the state’s top talents. He enters the weekend with the top seed in the IM (1:50.63) that is only eight hundredths of a second off the meet record and the top seed in the backstroke (49.88) that is already faster than the meet record in that race. He’ll also swim on the 400 relay noted above.

Cam Peel, Spring Lake junior – Finished sixth in the 50 and third in the 100 last season, but is seeded first in the 100 (46.16), third in the 50 (21.25) and is expected to swim on the top-seeded 200 medley relay (1:35.17).

Cooper Prue, Flint Powers Catholic senior – Placed sixth in the breaststroke and swam the prelim heat in the 200 freestyle last season, but could make a big jump coming in seeded first in the breaststroke (56.53) and fourth in the butterfly (51.13).

Riley VanMeter, Holland Christian junior – Tied for second in the butterfly and finished second in the backstroke in 2017; enters this weekend seeded first in the butterfly (49.84) and second in the backstroke (51.22).

Cayden Petrak, St. Johns junior – Last season’s runner-up to a now-graduated senior, Petrak missed the championship by less than two points. He won his Regional by 155 last week with a score of 496.10, second in Division 2 only to East Grand Rapids’ Nicholas Merritt (499.25).

PHOTOS: Swimmers prepare to launch during 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.)