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.
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 team’s seniors have come a long way since their freshman year,” said Assistant Coach Don Seifert. “Their progress has been exceptional, and their win has been an incredible achievement.” “This year’s team is one of the most aggressive I have ever […]
Rockford 157, West Ottawa 158 by DENISE WEBB There wasn’t a shortage of excitement on Thursday, Feb. 12, as the Rockford and West Ottawa swim and dive teams walked onto the natatorium deck, both undefeated. As bodies, arms, legs and water flew for more than two hours, the winner of the evening remained a mystery until the very last seconds of the meet. The concluding results, unfortunately, didn’t favor Rockford. The Rams lost to West Ottawa by the smallest of margins, 157-158. “It was anyone’s meet,” said Coach Tom Parks. “Like Rockford, West Ottawa’s team has depth and a very talented bench. We upset West Ottawa in some key events, but they surprised us with major wins in others. Bottom line: it was a great effort by both teams.” Throughout the meet, the overall score remained uncomfortably close. Many events ended with only a few hundredths of a second separating first and second place, such as the match-up between Max Olson of West Ottawa (49.92) and Tyler Augustine of Rockford (49.98) in the 100-yard freestyle. During the first three events, the Rams held a slight advantage of 12 points, but following the fourth event (50-yard freestyle), the score had dropped to Rockford 54, West Ottawa 51. From that point on, the score remained intensely consistent with only a slight difference. Throughout the last four events, West Ottawa and Rockford flip-flopped for the lead. Going into the final event, the 400-freestyle relay, Rockford was down by three points, 147-150. To win, the Rams had to place either first and second or first and third. The relay team of Augustine, Alex Devries, Andrew Sakala and Bryan Wasberg placed first, but West Ottawa’s deep bench of energized freestylers unfortunately out-swam Rockford for second and third places. When reviewing the stats, it becomes clear that many swimmers from both teams swam personal bests, and several swimmers finished in state-qualifying times. Of the 12 events, eight had the first-place winner swimming a state-qualifying time, and of these eight, five had the second-place finisher also securing a state cut. “Yes, there was a lot of speed demonstrated at this meet,” said Sakala. “West Ottawa’s team has gained a tremendous amount of depth, after losing only a few key seniors from last […]
by DENISE WEBB Rockford 193, Hudsonville 119 Keeping their wave of wins rolling, the Rams swim and dive team crashed over the Eagles 193-199 on Thursday, Jan. 22. After “taking down Goliath [Grandville]” last week in a closer-than-close meet, Rockford arrived at the Hudsonville pool postured to conquer another. Out of the 12 events, Rockford secured firsts in 10 of them and placed second or third in the others. Diving coach Marc VanDyken was extremely pleased with first-year diver LJ McCauley, who “elevated to another level at this meet.” McCauley placed second, closely behind Quinton Rodriguez. McCauley also earned enough points this meet to receive his varsity letter. Senior parent Suelyn Uselton continues to shake her head in amazement as she watches the talents and teamwork of this year’s group. “The team continually works cohesively, supporting each other at every meet and practice.” The swim and dive team’s next and last home meet is Thursday, Jan. 29 at 6:30 p.m. against Jenison, celebrating Senior Night.