by DENISE WEBB
How sweet it is to taste victory as the underdog! As West Michigan media favored Grandville as the next winner of the OK Red swimming and diving conference title, Rockford had much to prove as it entered the waters of the Jenison Aquatic Center during preliminaries on Friday, Feb. 27, followed by the final heats on Saturday, Feb. 28.
After a two-day battle filled with nonstop excitement against some of West Michigan’s top swimmers and divers from East Kentwood, Grand Haven, Grandville, Hudsonville, Jenison and West Ottawa, the Rams won by 56.5 points.
Even though the Rams eventually won by a respectable margin, the score of the 12-event meet was always fluctuating, keeping Rams fans on the edge of their seats. A prime example was when Rockford was down 11 points after the eighth event, and then fought back only to tie Grandville after the ninth and tenth events.
The moment of the meet that “sealed the deal” came when junior Brian Ginebaugh, freshman Bryan Wasberg and seniors Andrew Sakala and Guy Gordon placed 1-2-3-7, respectively, in the 100-yard breaststroke, the 11th event, earning the Rams enough points to enter the 12th, and final, event with an untouchable lead.
As Gordon touched the wall and quickly looked at the scoreboard, he said he was “ecstatic” to learn that his teammates placed 1-2-3, and his time qualified him to compete at the state level in two weeks. “All the hard work paid off!” he expressed.
The competition overall was extremely fierce at the conference meet. Several swimmers from all seven schools secured state qualifying times. Throughout the two-day meet, approximately 80 percent of Rockford’s extraordinary team swam or dove personal bests, resulting in 27 individual conference medals. The Rockford medal holders are: seniors Tyler Augustine (four medals), Gordon (one), diver Quinton Rodriguez (one) and Sakala (four); juniors Derik Bothma (four), Alex Devries (three), Ginebaugh (four), diver Tyler Johnson (one) and Connor Thelen (one); and freshmen Josh Travis (two) and Wasberg (four).
“This year’s team is one of the most aggressive I have ever coached,” said Coach Tom Parks.
Parks went on to say that even during the regular season when Rockford was substantially ahead in a meet, the team continued to apply pressure. They weren’t going to swim at the competitor’s level, he stated. They were there to improve their times, even pushing themselves to earn a state qualifying time when Rockford was already clearly the winner of the meet.
Assistant Coach Dave McWatters was smiling when he said, “We need to thank West Ottawa for beating us during the regular season.” McWatters felt that loss was a key part of the season, because the boys came back stronger than ever, eventually winning the conference title.
This meet ends an accomplished conference season for the Rams. The team concluded its dual meet season in a three-way tie (5-1 record each) with Grandville and West Ottawa and now has won the OK Red conference title. Rockford’s swimmers named to All Conference are Augustine, Bothma, Devries, Ginebaugh, Sakala and Wasberg. On March 12-14, several Rockford swimmers and divers will compete at the state level at Eastern Michigan University.