by DENISE WEBB
Shoulder-to-shoulder spectators and fans witnessed a Rockford historical moment as the underdog prevailed on February 25-27 at the Rams’ natatorium at the conclusion of what Head Coach Tom Parks coined a “dog fight season.” Rockford overtook six extremely fast and talented OK Red conference teams to secure its second consecutive conference championship title and its ninth overall since 1997.
Rockford won with 368 points, followed by Grandville (338), Holland West Ottawa (317), Jenison (294), East Kentwood (269), Hudsonville (240) and Grand Haven (186).
“Based on the entries going into the preliminaries on Thursday [Feb. 25], Grandville was ahead 32 points,” said Parks.
Also on Mlive.com, The Grand Rapids Press ranked Rockford on February 25 third behind favored West Ottawa and then Grandville.
“I think one of the main reasons why we had so much success this weekend was due to the development of our younger swimmers,” commented swim parent Brian Thelen. “Rockford’s team improved at a greater rate than some of the upperclassmen of the other schools, such as Grandville and West Ottawa. What I am saying is that we were a completely different team than what we were at our first dual meet with Grandville where we lost. Also, Tom Parks and [assistant coach] Dave McWatters did well at determining how to best use our talents in each event.”
Starting the three-day conference championship meet, Rockford was in a three-way tie with Grandville and West Ottawa, each with a 5-1 conference record.
Thursday evening, Feb. 25, was diving preliminaries. Of the 21 contenders, only the top 16 would advance to the finals on February 27. Of Rockford’s five divers, four of them advanced to the finals, with three of them impressively placing in the top eight spots. These divers were Tyler Johnson (top eight), LJ McCauley (top eight), Noah Markel and Kurt Plaggemars (top eight).
“The divers got the momentum going for the team,” said swimmer Connor Thelen.
As the Rams walked onto the pool deck of Rockford’s natatorium Friday, Feb. 26, for the swimming preliminaries, the fans and the competition knew there was something totally different about the Rockford swimmers. as they bellowed their pre-meet pool deck cheer. The intonation had more depth and meaning, almost with an underlying message. Their cheer appeared to be more like an animal’s territorial warning as the Rams’ voices became louder and louder with every breath. The cheer seemed to be sending the message that they weren’t relinquishing their waters, as they did to Grandville early in the regular season losing by nine points, or letting someone else claim their territory as OK Red conference champs.
“We were so hyped Friday night,” said Harrison Webb. “We swam like there were no Saturday finals. We treated Friday night as though it was the finals.”
Webb was right. They swam like there was
“With every good swim or win we had, the whole team got more excited and wanted to do their best as well,” said Thelen.
One of the many mind-blowing highlights of the swimming preliminaries occurred when senior Alex Devries broke a 2001 pool record (53.90) in the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 52.83.
“Breaking the pool record in the 100-yard butterfly still seems surreal to me, not trying to sound cliché,” Devries said. “I am so happy to know that swimming year-round for ten years has truly paid off.”
Also at Friday’s preliminaries, three more Rockford swimmers qualified for the state finals on March 12 and 13 in Holland. They were Ben Fredrickson in the 100-yard butterfly (53.67), Jared Martella in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:03.17), and Josh Travis in the 100-yard backstroke (55.93). In addition to these three impressive state times, an abundance of Rockford swimmers swam personal bests. Some of the most astounding improved times were in the 500-yard freestyle. Many of Rockford’s swimmers took at least five seconds off their seed time up to an amazing 20 seconds by senior Andrew Murray (5:50.90 to 5:30.77). Other improved
500-yard freestyle swimmers were sophomores Michael Staley (5:40.43 to 5:31.43), Alex Savage (5:28.28 to 5:21.46) and Jared Seifert (5:26.84 to 5:19.73), and freshmen Michael Arend (5:25.71 to 5:13.64), Trenten Babcock (5:12.26 to 5:05.00) and Justin Hulsebus (5:42.12 to 5:36.76). Babcock was the only Ram who advanced onto Saturday’s finals in this event to win an 11th-place finish. He again improved his seed time at the finals to 5:04.76.
The results of Thursday’s and Friday’s preliminaries “put us in the right position,” said Parks. Rockford had 16 swimmers and three divers qualify for Saturday’s final meet. Of the 11 swimming events, Rockford had at least one, and sometimes three, in the top eight of the possible 16 swimming positions.
Saturday’s final meet encompassed more notable moments and continued to demonstrate the speed of the swimmers as every individual event had at least the top six finishes with state-qualifying times.
One example of Rockford’s speed was shown right off the block for the first event. The relay team of Derik Bothma, Fredrickson, Brian Ginebaugh and Travis (1:37.06) set three records with one swim. Not only did they crush the existing 2004 pool record by 1.5 seconds (1:38.56), but they also earned All American consideration. Additionally, The Grand Rapids Press on MLive.com (March 4, 2010) placed this talented relay team as number one for its Grand Rapids area leaders.
Bothma stated that this was the first time this group had swum together in a relay. Rockford’s coaching staff definitely found the right recipe for success.
“It was the greatest feeling to see that we broke the record,” said Bothma. “I am very proud of the team. Every one of us had a major role to play, and this was a sweet reward for all the hard work throughout the season.”
“Friday night [at preliminaries] we were discussing what times we had to go individually to beat the pool record,” said Fredrickson. “At that moment, we got really pumped up and realized it would be possible. We swam our hearts out and accomplished our goal.”
“I would give the coach a lot of credit for having the confidence in his team’s ability to change events or put together relay teams that had never swum together,” said B. Thelen.
Another example of Rockford’s speed was displayed in event three, the 200-yard IM. Four Rockford swimmers placed in the top 16 finishes. Bryan Wasberg earned an impressive third with a state time and personal best of 2:00.55, followed by another Rockford state time and personal best by Ginebaugh in sixth (2:03.07). With these strong finishes, both Wasberg and Ginebaugh earned spots on the Grand Rapids area leaders list as seventh and tenth, respectively. Jeff Schmitt and Martella also placed in this event at seventh (2:04.52) and 13th (2:09.68), respectively.
In event five, diving, Johnson placed third for Rockford with 353.35 points, behind Jenison’s Nate Rietberg (432.50 points) and Grand Haven’s Mike Vaandering (397.85). McCauley secured fifth (328.05 points), followed by Plaggemars in seventh (313.10) and Markel in 15th (247.75).
With three of the divers placing in the top seven positions, “Rockford outscored all opponents by 10 points in overall team points,” said Diving Coach Marc VanDyken. “How well the guys placed is an indication of the team’s depth. Our goal for Tyler, Kurt and LJ was to have them place in the top eight, and they did.”
In event six, the 100-yard butterfly, nine out of the top ten finishes were extraordinary state-qualifying times. Of those top 10 finishes, Rockford was responsible for four of them.
Devries placed first in the butterfly with another pool record, breaking his own from the day before (52.79). Fredrickson placed second and improved his existing state time by .38. Both Devries and Fredrickson were placed second and fourth on the Grand Rapids Press list. Swimming more state times, Wasberg placed eighth (57.48), followed by Travis in tenth (55.27).
Another grand first-place finish for Rockford was claimed by Ginebaugh (59.80) in event 11, the 100-yard breaststroke.
“I broke a minute,” exclaimed Ginebaugh. This win was a personal best for Ginebaugh and is his second consecutive year to place first in this event at conference.
Others who also placed in this event were: Martella (1:04.23, seventh), Thelen (1:04.25, 11th), and Ian Rosloniec (1:05.85, 12th).
What an accomplished weekend it was for Rockford. The Rams secured 25 medals (first through eight places) in 10 out of the 12 events.
Other state time qualifiers and medal and point winners not mentioned previously are: Devries (state-qualifying 1:49.63, seventh place), Babcock (1:52.07, 11th), and Nick Willison (1:55.96, 15th) in the 200-yard freestyle; Bothma (state-qualifying 22.06, fourth), Eric Chisholm (state-qualifying 22.62, seventh), and Fredrickson (23.14, 14th) in the 50-yard freestyle; Bothma (state-qualifying 49.21, fourth), Schmitt (50.32, 10th), and Chisholm (50.96, 13th) in the 100-yard freestyle; Babcock (5:04.76, 11th) in the 500-yard freestyle; Bothma, Chisholm, Schmitt and Wasberg (state-qualifying 1:30.37, fifth) in the 200-yard freestyle relay; Travis (state-qualifying 55.56, fourth), Willison (58.18, eighth), Kyle Peterson (1:01.80, 14th), and Tim Newberger (1:02.35, 15th) in the 100-yard backstroke.
“We all had great races,” said Ben Pitts. “It was nice that we finished the season so well.”
This championship meet concludes the season for many, but nine Ram swimmers continue on to compete March 12 and 13 at the state level in Holland. They are swimmers Derik Bothma, Eric Chisholm, Alex Devries, Ben Fredrickson, Brian Ginebaugh, Jared Martella, Jeff Schmitt, Josh Travis and Bryan Wasberg. The divers are determined after Tuesday’s regional meet.