MARQUETTE — When Denise Mayer began her duties as co-head swimming coach at Sault Ste. Marie High School last fall, she didn't really know what to expect from the Blue Devils.
“We started with just a handful of swimmers,” she said. “We had lost a lot of seniors through graduation. We told the kids this would be a building year.”
The Sault boys, however, gained their first Upper Peninsula title in a decade Saturday with 258 points. Not bad for a building year.
“This is a big thing for us,” said senior Bryan Colborn, who won the 100-yard butterfly event in 1:01.28. “I’m just very proud of our team. We put forth the effort in practice and it paid off today. I could see this building (during the season). Deep down I had a feeling this would happen. I also had the feeling we were all on little bit of a mission during the trip over here.”
Runner-up Marquette scored 225 points and Kingsford edged Houghton 192-190 for third.
Things began on a promising note for the Blue Devils Friday when they grabbed three of the top five places in diving.
Senior Elliott Furr won with 171.05 points. Sophomores Kyle Flickinger and Levi Furr took fourth and fifth at 154.1 and 148.15, respectively.
“We started very strong with our diving,” Mayer said while trying to dry off after jumping into the pool in celebration with her team. “I think that set the tone for the weekend. That encouraged our guys to continue our momentum. We didn’t have many firsts, but we had enough depth to cover the points. We finished the season with 18 boys. Hopefully, this will help increase our numbers next season.”
Junior Nick Chevillot added a second in 200 freestyle (2:01.26) and helped the Blue Devils take second in the 400 freestyle relay.
Mayer, who shares the head coaching job with Kelli Vanderbaun, was quick to credit assistant coaches Jamie Laurence and Dillon Mayer for part of the team’s success.
“They’re a very integral part of the team,” she said. “They’ve done a variety of tasks when needed. They’re part of the glue that holds us together.”
Marquette sophomore Nathan Rotundo won 100 breaststroke (1:03.33) and helped the Redmen take the 400 freestyle relay.
The Redmen had an unfortunate turn of events in Saturday’s first race (200 medley relay) when the officials ruled Rotundo left too soon at the beginning of his leg, resulting in the team’s disqualification.
“Nathan is the most regimented and disciplined swimmer we have,” said Marquette coach Nate McFarren. “That was an unfortunate beginning, although I don’t want to take away any of the thunder. Each of our kids did their job, and they did it well.”
McFarren was especially pleased with the effort of the team’s lone senior Luke Sides, who was runner-up in 100 backstroke (1:03.07) and third in 100 freestyle (52.82) and helped the winning 400 freestyle relay.
“For Luke, this was a great ending to his career,” said McFarren.
The Redmen swam without freshman Sam Williams, who was out with the flu.
“Sam is our top butterfly and No. 2 breaststroke swimmer,” said McFarren. “He would have gotten us 30 points.”
Kingsford senior Josh Johnson set the pool record in 50 freestyle at 22.02 seconds, with Houghton senior Daniel Shonnard runner-up (22.75)
Johnson and Shonnard also went 1-2 in 100 freestyle in 49.25 and 50.38, respectively.
“This season has gone well,” said Johnson, who plans to enroll at Michigan Tech this fall. “I’ve made more friends from other teams. It’s a lot of fun competing with people I know. Daniel has been pushing me all year. We’re so close and we’re both seniors. We’re in the same position. It’s not a rivalry. It’s just fun competition.”
Houghton senior James DeClerck won 200 freestyle in a school-record 1:52.52 and 500 freestyle (5:08.3).
“I was just zoned in this morning, preparing for the races,” said DeClerck, who hopes to swim in college, but unsure of where he’ll attend classes this fall. “I’m happy with my times this season. Overall, this is a great meet. I’m very happy to be a part of this with all the great swimmers throughout the U.P.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Champion Sault Ste. Marie poses on the trophy stand after claiming this season's Upper Peninsula championship. (Middle) A pair of swimmers race during Saturday's Finals at Marquette High School. (Photos courtesy of Keith Freeman of Freeman's Photography.)
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.
Get 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.
“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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)