by DENISE WEBB
At state finals for any sport, the realization of how refined and talented Rockford’s athletes are becomes evident. The March 12 and 13 swimming and diving Division I state preliminaries and finals were no exception.
Fifty-four Michigan high schools qualified this year to compete at this event, where only the best of the best participate.
On Friday afternoon at the preliminaries, Rockford Head Coach Tom Parks escorted 12 of his finest athletes onto the pool deck of the Holland Aquatic Center. They were seniors Derik Bothma, Alex Devries, Brian Ginebaugh and Tyler Johnson (diver); juniors Ben Fredrickson, Jared Martella, LJ McCauley (diver), Kurt Plaggemars (diver) and Jeff Schmitt; and sophomores Eric Chisholm, Josh Travis and Bryan Wasberg. At the conclusion of the preliminaries, only the top 16 in each event would advance to the finals on Saturday, earning points and medals for the team.
Rockford had eight swimmers and one diver advance to Saturday.
Throughout the state finals on Saturday, Saline High School held the lead, followed by Ann Arbor Pioneer. Rockford and its OK Red conference foes, Grandville and West Ottawa, were separated from each other by only one or two points until event nine. After event nine, neither Rockford nor West Ottawa could match Grandville’s speed and depth. Grandville ended the day in fourth place, Rockford in seventh (one point from sixth-place Livonia Stevenson), and West Ottawa eighth. Third and fifth places went to Northville and Zeeland, respectively.
At the conclusion of the state finals, the Rams earned 18 medals (received after a 1-16 finish). Four swimmers were named All American (after swimming a specific time), and two individuals and one relay team of four were awarded All State (finishing first through eighth in a state final event).
“After countless hours of diving and lifting and after many miles of swimming, it was a pleasure to see their hard work pay off,” said Parks.
The 200-yard medley relay team of Bothma, Fredrickson, Ginebaugh and Travis not only placed second in the state, but also was awarded All State and All American for the exact-time-needed finish of 1:37.02. First place in the state went to the Holland West Ottawa team, with a time of 1:36.33.
Johnson was the only Rockford diver to advance into Saturday’s finals. He led his team with 333.60 points in the 11-dive competition to impressively finish 10th in the state. McCauley finished 19th overall for the weekend, and Plaggemars finished 25th.
The 100-yard breaststroke event has been dominated by Rockford at most of its meets this season. The Rams continued to fair well with Ginebaugh claiming fifth place (58.81), with a time that earned him All American consideration. Wasberg secured eighth (1:00.65), and Martella finished 30th (1:03.78).
Devries placed 32nd in the state in the 200-yard freestyle event (1:49.46). His intense competition in this event included Grandville’s University of Michigan-bound super senior swimmer Mike Wynalda. Wynalda awed everyone as they watched him break the Division I and All Class records in this event with a time of 1:36.67. His time was almost 1.50 seconds faster than the 1994 Division I record and .06 seconds faster than the 1994 All Class record.
Wasberg earned 11th place (1:57.81) out of 42 contenders in the 200-yard IM. Ginebaugh (2:03.17) and Schmitt (2:04.45) placed 32nd and 38th, respectively.
Rarely seen at a state meet, Bothma and Forest Hills Northern’s Cassidy “Sunshine” Hayden had a swim-off after Friday’s preliminaries for 16th place in the 100-yard freestyle event. Only the winner would swim on Saturday. Unfortunately, Bothma fell to Hayden for 17th place with a time of 48.73. Hayden went on to place 11th in the state on Saturday (48.19).
Of the 58 swimmers for the 50-yard freestyle, Chisholm placed 45th with a time of 22.87. Most swimmers finished with only two or three hundredths of a second separating them from each other. First-place Grant Cole of Ann Arbor Pioneer clocked in at 21.27.
Even though Devries broke Rockford’s 100-yard butterfly pool record in February, he couldn’t out-swim the Saline High School freshman David Boland (51.29). Devries and Fredrickson placed 10th (53.07) and 13th (53.32), respectively, along with Travis in 34th (55.58) place.
Other event winners were: Bothma, Chisholm, Schmitt and Wasberg in the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:28.80, 10th place); Bothma, Devries, Schmitt and Wasberg in the 400-yard freestyle relay (13th); Travis in the 100-yard backstroke (56.37, 27th).
“I was amazed at their speed and how well they swam,” said former Rockford standout swimmer and spectator Mike Mette.