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.
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.)
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 email@example.com 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.)