Team Effort Vaults Marquette Back to #1

By Ryan Stieg
Special for Second Half

February 15, 2020

MARQUETTE – Going into Saturday’s Upper Peninsula Swimming & Diving Finals, it had been three years since the Marquette boys finished on top.

To end that streak, the Redmen would need their underclassmen to start fast on the blocks – and Marquette’s youth definitely did their part.

The Redmen rolled to the team win, racking up 344 points, well ahead of second place Sault Ste. Marie (227). The Blue Devils edged Houghton by eight points to get the runner-up spot, while Kingsford was fourth with 176.

Marquette’s depth also played a role in the victory as it had only two event winners with Liam McFarren taking the 100-yard freestyle and the Redmen winning the 200 free relay.

“With a crew that’s mostly freshmen and sophomores, this win means even more honestly,” Marquette head coach Nathan McFarren said. “It was a pretty impressive performance for this group of guys, and we had so much depth too. It was pretty incredible to watch these guys progress throughout the year, and I can’t wait to see it in four years.”

In regard to the Redmen’s depth, McFarren said his team is no longer strictly swimmers, but now includes a wide variety of athletes.

“We’ve lost a lot over the past few years, which has cost us, but this freshman class is huge,” he said. “It’s the biggest freshman class I’ve ever had, and it’s not all guys that have been swimming their whole lives. It’s football players and multi-sport players, so it’s pretty cool.”

The Sault had a big day in the pool as it finished first in the other two relays (200 medley and 400 free), while Andrew Innerebner and Morgan Burd both won two events. Innerebner won the 50 free and 100 butterfly, and Burd finished on top in the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke.

“Sometimes the kids just shock you,” Blue Devils head coach Steve Habusta said. “We expected great things, but I don’t think we expected this great of things. The boys were swimming lights out. Everybody is stepping up and doing it all through tragedy. … One of our swimmers lost his mom, so for our kids to step up and rally behind him, I think it’s a special day for everyone.”

Houghton notched three wins at the meet with Archer Olson earning victories in the 200 free and 500 free, while Davin Evans won the 100 breaststroke.

Even though the Gremlins were unseated as U.P. champs, head coach Erik Johnson was pleased with how the day went overall.

“When you come here with five boys qualified and eight or nine girls, it’s tough to get points,” he said. “But they all did really well. They all swam well, and I couldn’t be more proud of them. Our boys, we only graduate one senior and we’ll miss our girls seniors, but kids are ready to step up so we’re excited.”

On Friday night, Ishpeming Westwood’s Brock Sundberg repeated as the 1-meter diving champion with a score of 205.15. This was the third straight year a Patriots diver won the title.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Liam McFarren was one of two individual event winners for team champion Marquette, and here he swims the winning 100 freestyle. (Middle) Sault Ste. Marie's Morgan Burd swims to the championship in the 100 backstroke. (Photos by Jarvinen Photos.)

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.)