by DENISE WEBB
As senior swimmer Alex Devries walked into Rockford High School’s pool area January 9 to compete against six other West Michigan schools for the swimming portion of the Rockford Invitational, he had two main thoughts on his mind, “I hope we win today,” and “I want to break 55 seconds in the 100-yard butterfly.”
As the day played out, Devries, along with his other swim/dive teammates, not only broke personal records and accomplished individual goals, but also collectively outperformed their competition by a stunning margin.
“I was thrilled,” said Devries, “when I swam a 0:54.43 in the 100 butterfly, but I was stunned when we dominated the competition by almost 125 points. That was exciting.”
Yes, Rockford’s swim/dive team had an “epic, victorious, stupendous, awesome, sweet finish,” said junior Jared Martella, trying to best describe a day of indescribable feats. “Parks was even surprised,” added Martella, talking about Rockford’s head swim/dive coach Tom Parks.
The invitational began Friday night, Jan. 8, with the diving portion. Sixteen divers performed 11 dives each. Rockford’s divers senior Tyler Johnson, juniors LJ McCauley and Kurt Plaggemars, and freshman Noah Markel placed third, fourth, eighth and 11th, respectively. Even though Rockford didn’t place first individually, the Rams won the event by earning the most points overall. The top three dive teams were Rockford with 48 points, followed by Jenison (38) and Grand Haven (32).
“We scored almost 50 points of the possible 155. That says a lot about our divers,” said diving coach Marc VanDyken. “I’m very proud of them. With the exception of one team, our entire conference was here. This invitational has given me a good idea as to how we might finish at the conference meet.”
Rockford’s wins and the excitement continued on Saturday from the first swimmer off the block to the last swimmer to touch the wall.
Immediately, Rockford positioned itself in the lead in total points earned with the help of two relay teams comprised of sophomore Eric Chisholm, seniors Devries, Brian Ginebaugh and Connor Thelen (1:43.57, state-qualifying time); and juniors Ben Fredrickson and Martella, sophomore Josh Travis, and freshman Nick Willison (1:45.48). These two relay teams completed the first event, the 200-yard medley relay, with second- and fourth-place finishes. This event had such close competition that the swimmers in every lane seemed to be propelling themselves in synchronized motion.
the 200-yard IM, when sophomore Bryan Wasberg, junior Jeff Schmitt, Travis and Willison placed first (2:05.81), third (2:08.96), fourth (2:09.29) and seventh (2:13.25), and collectively earned more than 40 percent of the possible 155 event points. Rockford advanced by 34 points from second-place holder West Ottawa.
After an exciting battle for first place in event four, the 50-yard freestyle, Rockford senior Derik Bothma fell to Grand Haven senior Sam Schulze by a mere few one-hundredths of a second. Overall, the Rams again had four swimmers place in the top 16 point-generating slots in an event. These four swimmers were Bothma in second place, 22.64, shaving 0.15 seconds from his existing state-qualifying time; Chisholm in seventh, 23.46; Fredrickson in 12th, 24.22; and Thelen in 15th, 24.37.
After event six, the 100-yard butterfly, Rockford was ahead of second-place West Ottawa by 71 points. Devries placed first at 54.43, shaving 0:79 seconds off his existing state-qualifying time, with Fredrickson taking fourth place at 57.14, and Travis placing 10th at 58.79 to help the Rams protect their first-place standing.
For a second time that day, Bothma and Schulze competed side-by-side, stroke-for-stroke in event seven, the 100-yard freestyle. Schulze, unfortunately, pulled away again from Bothma at the very last second. Even though Bothma didn’t finish first, he swam a state-qualifying time of 49.88, improving his time for the season by 0.11 seconds. For the third time, Rockford had four swimmers place in the top 16 positions: Bothma, Schmitt (sixth, 51.39), Chisholm (11th, 52.13), and Ginebaugh (13th, 52.77).
Event nine, the 200-yard freestyle relay, revealed the talent level present at the Rockford Invitational. The top five finishes were all state-qualifying times, and the last person in each relay all touched the wall within 1.93 seconds of each other. The Rockford team of Bothma, Chisholm, Schmitt and Wasberg wrapped up first place with a state time of 1:31.54, followed by West Ottawa (1:32.55), Hudsonville (1:32.88), East Kentwood (1:33.04) and Jenison (1:33.47). The team of freshman Trenten Babcock, Fredrickson, Ginebaugh, and sophomore Ben Pitts also placed seventh in this event with 1:36.45, earning the Rams an additional 24 points. Rockford was the only school to have two relay teams place in the top eight for this event.
The 100-yard backstroke, event 10, was just as closely swum as the last nine events. Rockford’s team showed its talented depth again with swimmers Devries, Willison, Thelen and sophomore Harrison Webb placing third (58.66), fifth (59.21), eighth (1:01.24), and 12th (1:03.51) to advance another 40 points. The current meet scores were Rockford at 427, followed by West Ottawa (347) and Jenison (283).
Rockford dominated in event 11, the 100-yard breaststroke, as Wasberg, Ginebaugh, Martella and sophomore Daniel Newberger placed first, second, seventh and ninth. Wasberg and Ginebaugh both swam state-qualifying times of 1:02.98 and 1:03.56, respectively. This event was the only one where a school had a first-second finish.
The meet concluded with an impressive finale by the relay team of Bothma, Devries, Schmitt and Wasberg. For event 12, the 400-yard freestyle relay, this team swam a first-place finish in a state-qualifying time of 3:22.21.
“It was a very fast meet,” said Travis. “It seemed like everyone moved up in time. Coach Parks has been telling us to be more deliberate with our strokes, meaning for every move we make we better have a reason.”
Parks’ advice paid off, as the Rams swam eight state-qualifying times, earned 11 medals for first through third places, and defeated East Kentwood, Grand Haven, Hudsonville, Jenison, Okemos and West Ottawa by more than 124 points in this two-day event—and had too many personal bests to mention.