21 medals earned
by DENISE WEBB
The excitement level was like no other this past weekend at the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) state finals as hundreds of swimmers and divers from 51 Division I high schools assembled at Eastern Michigan University’s Michael H. Jones Natatorium to determine the “best of the best” in the state of Michigan.
The MHSAA state finals began with preliminaries for diving on Thursday, March 13, and swimming on Friday, March 14, followed by the final meet on Saturday.
“To think… 77 Division I high schools in the state of Michigan are invited to send qualified swimmers and divers to this meet,” stated Coach Tom Parks. “Several of the 51 schools that competed this year only had a couple of swimmers and divers qualify. Rockford had 13. That’s a lot! It’s been several years since we have had this much talent to send to the state level.”
The Rams’ state team consisted of seniors Tyler Augustine, Guy Gordon, Mark Hecksel, Andrew Huizen, Quinton Rodriguez (diver), Andrew Sakala; juniors Derik Bothma, Alex Devries, Brian Ginebaugh, Tyler Johnson (diver), Connor Thelen; sophomores Ben Fredrickson, LJ McCauley (diver); and freshman Bryan Wasberg.
A swimmer can only compete in four events at the finals-two individual races and two relays-and to do so he must place in the top 16 of those events at the preliminaries. Not many swimmers qualify for all four of the allowable events. Of Rockford’s state swimmers, only Augustine and Wasberg placed in the top 16 of four events.
Several Rams placed in the finals. For individual events, they were: Augustine (200-yard freestyle, 100-yard freestyle), DeVries (100-yard butterfly), Ginebaugh (100-yard breaststroke), Johnson (diving), Rodriguez (diving), Sakala (100-yard freestyle) and Wasberg (200-yard IM, 100-yard breaststroke). For relay teams, placers in the finals were Bothma, Devries, Ginebaugh and Thelen (200-yard medley relay), and Augustine, Bothma, Sakala and Wasberg (200-yard freestyle relay, 400-yard freestyle relay).
At the sound of the starting buzzer at the finals on Saturday, the yells and screams were at a decibel so intense it sent chills throughout the body and raised the fine hairs on arms.
Thelen was the first Rockford swimmer to pierce the water as he swam backstroke in the 200-yard medley relay with Devries, Ginebaugh and Bothma swimming the breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle, respectively. Their relay team placed 13th with a time of 1:40.14, which was less than five seconds behind first place. Times in all the events remained close throughout the entire day.
At the conclusion of the meet, Rockford had placed seventh and had won 21 state medals, with the relay team of Augustine, Bothma, Sakala and Wasberg also earning All-State recognition for their fifth-place finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay (3:15.06) and All-State recognition and All-American consideration for their third-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle (1:27.20).
Diver Rodriguez also received All-State recognition and All-American consideration.
“I’m extremely proud of all my divers. It’s rare to bring three to state,” smiled Diving Coach Marc VanDyken. “Quinton’s goal was to place in the top six. He secured fourth with a personal best [386.85 points]. Tyler just wanted to make the final cut [the top 16]. He placed 14th, also with a personal best [330.50 points]. First-year diver LJ had accomplished his goal by just making it to state. They did what they set out to do.”
Former Rockford state competitor and state meet spectator Mike Mette was also impressed with what he saw on Saturday. “I’m proud of the guys,” Mette said with sincerity. “They did great! They lived up to Rockford’s expectations. Last year, we placed 21st, a major jump to seventh place.”
This meet concludes Rockford’s swim/dive season. This meet is the last time senior Sakala will enter the water competitively “unless some college comes along and offers me a scholarship,” he said with a grin. “Our team did amazing! I’m relieved, though, that the season is finished. All the pressure is off now. I swam all best times at state. I swam my best,” said Sakala, as though these are words by which he wants to remember his past four years with Rockford’s swim team.
Assistant Coach Dave McWatters summarized the many great achievements of the 2009 season. “We had more swimmers qualify for the varsity A team than ever before. The ninth- and tenth-graders won the second-place trophy at the annual freshman-sophomore meet. We tied Grandville and West Ottawa with a 5-1 record for first place in the regular season. Two weeks later, we won the OK Red conference championship outright by winning the conference meet. Thirteen swimmers and divers competed at the state level and proudly brought home seventh place out of 77 schools, with a diver and two relays earning All-State recognition. The 200-freestyle relay and one diver also received All-American consideration. It’s been a great season!”