WO Last-Second Win Will Live Forever

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 29, 2019

They’re going to be talking about the final second of this swimming & diving season for a long time at Holland West Ottawa.

By sixth hundredths of that second, the Panthers edged Detroit Catholic Central to finish first in the 400-yard freestyle relay at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals at Holland Aquatic Center. West Ottawa led DCC by only two points heading into that final race, and the 40 additional points for the win – compared to 34 for DCC as runner-up – clinched for the Panthers’ first MHSAA championship in this sport since 1971.

That would be plenty to earn West Ottawa the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” honor for March. But it’s just the finish of the story.

The Panthers also had come in runners-up last season and in 2015. They’ve won 47 straight dual meets, stretching back more than five seasons, and six straight league titles. West Ottawa also won all of its invitationals this winter.

But claiming the ultimate championship brought an even greater amount of significance to those achievements.

“This year, this was the expectation,” Panthers coach Steve Bowyer said. “Going into that last relay, there was a lot of pressure because this was a culmination of everything these seniors had been through the last four years. Obviously, as a coach, you’re just sitting there hoping it’s going to go your way, because of what the expectation has been.

“For this group of boys, even if they’d gone in and swam the way they did and gotten beat, it’s still a successful season. But this was the one meet these guys had been working for because we’ve gotten the previous conference championships and invite wins, and after finishing runner-up twice the last 4-5 years, this was the goal for this group.”

The Panthers secured the team win in part with first places in the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley from senior Derek Maas, the 200 medley swam by Maas, senior Khadin Soto, junior Gavin Temple and freshman Kevin Maas and the 400 with junior Jamahl Hogan and senior Sam Smith leading off for Maas and then Soto.

The medley relay’s time of 1:31.01 was the third-fastest in MHSAA Finals history, all classes and divisions included. Maas’ IM time of 1:46.70 also ranked third in that event, and Soto’s runner-up time in the breaststroke of 55.33 ranked eighth on the all class/division list for that race. Maas won the butterfly in 48.02 and holds the West Ottawa school records that race and the IM, as does Soto in the breaststroke. The 200 medley relay also set a school mark this season, topping a record board that surely ranks as one of the most impressive in the state – consider that during this decade alone, West Ottawa had 11 individual and five relay Finals champions.

But the team title was another level of accomplishment.

The feeling on this run was different than when Bowyer led the West Ottawa girls team to the LPD1 title in Division 1, because of the great expectations. That girls team was looking for a third or fourth-place Finals finish but pushed into contention with a big first day.

This boys team was ranked No. 1, and as noted, finished first in every dual and invite – made all the more impressive considering West Ottawa’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Red also included LPD1 third-place Hudsonville, 13th-place Rockford, 18th-place Grand Haven and 31st-place East Kentwood.

Keep in mind as well that West Ottawa isn’t the only swimming power, much less MHSAA champion, in its community. Holland Christian won its second straight LPD3 title last month, and West Ottawa won by 35 points when those two met in December. West Ottawa also took a 46-point dual win over neighbor Zeeland, which went on to finish 12th in LPD1, and a 56-point dual win over Holland High, which finished 16th in LPD2.

All set the stage for the Panthers’ Finals run, and last-second win, which has been replayed during post-meet get-togethers, a school assembly, and when Bowyer has had some moments to himself as he’s watched it, said jokingly, “probably more than I should.”

“Being the number one-ranked team all year long, and to have some of the early success we had and put up the times we did, going into that meet, I felt pretty confident,” Bowyer said. “We felt it was going to be our year. We’d had good teams in the past. But a few years ago we ran into Brother Rice which was phenomenal, and Ann Arbor Skyline last year had a great year. This year, we felt it was our year.

“Detroit Catholic Central, I felt, had a phenomenal meet, made things closer than a lot of people expected, and I definitely tipped my hat to them. We feel fortunate to be on the winning end on that touch.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2018-19

February: Lowell wrestling – Read
January: Farmington United gymnastics – Read 
December: Warren Woods-Tower wrestling – Read
November: Rochester Adams girls swimming & diving – Read
October: Leland boys soccer – Read
September: Pickford football – Read
August: Northville girls golf – Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Holland West Ottawa celebrates its first MHSAA Finals championship in boys swimming & diving since 1971. (Middle) Khadin Soto was among the team’s stars during the LPD1 meet. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Local Dominance Achieved Again, Dow Sets Sights on Statewide Success

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

January 25, 2023

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.

Bay & ThumbGet 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.

Thomas Bacigalupo, second from left on starting block, prepares to lead off the B heat of the 400 freestyle relay. “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 CostanzoPaul 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 paulcostanzo3@gmail.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.)