The Spring Lake boys swim team's record keeper has had to switch to pencil over the past two seasons, as a uniquely talented group pushes through the program.
Last season, they took down seven of 11 school records between the lane lines and captured their highest-ever finish at the Division 3 state finals with a fifth-place effort.
This season, they didn't miss a beat, capitalizing on an offseason of intense training by resetting two varsity records and six pool records in their home opener.
Despite the uncompromising speed, the Lakers had to settle for a less-than-stellar dual meet record this year, as roster numbers limited their collective scoring potential. In their conference matchup with Forest Hills, Spring Lake took gold in 11-of-12 events but managed to lose the meet by three points.
With their ludicrous top-end speed, the Lakers' victory potential goes up as more teams enter the fray. Leaving their swimmers in medal contention while their competitors scoring potential thins or disappear altogether.
That reality shifts even greater focus onto the already ultra-important two days of the season — the state championships. When dual meet victories are out of reach but records and state titles are yours for the taking, everything comes down to how you finish.
That immense pressure and extremely delayed pay-off could break the spirit of even the toughest competitors, but a precarious atmosphere of friendly ribbing keeps these Lakers sharp all season long.
"It is a very competitive team," senior sprinter Garrett Henning said. "Everyone is shooting for spots on relays and winning the most races and setting records, that is what keeps us motivated."
"The intrasquad competition keeps us going," senior breaststroker Will Brown said. "We race each other every day in practice. You always want to beat the guy next to you."
"We really harp on each other when we are in the pool, but when we get out, it is a family," said senior jack-of-all-strokes Drew Fogel. "Giving each other a hard time is motivating. You know if you lose, even in practice, you will hear about it. So, you just have to come back and beat them the next day."
Intense practices naturally breed speed, but when that speed doesn't translate to wins, and only one swimmer can hold a record at a time, a mid-season burnout seems almost inevitable. But, for this team, the constant proximity to the cutting edge of the program has the whole team bought in for the long haul.
"It is kind of hard to win dual meets with such a small team," Henning said. "But the younger guys look up to us competing with one another and see that they could be on that record board someday, and that motivates them."
Now, it is time to throw down. With the dual season behind them, the Lakers shipped seven swimmers out to Saginaw Valley State University to compete at the Division 3 state championship, where they will look to make more than a splash.
"It is fun to go to big meets where the teams are spread out a little bit more," said Spring Lake head coach Rob Peel. "In our dual meets, we lost to some teams who we will beat easily at the state meet. It ends up being a really fun meet because all of the work all year goes into it."
Following a season-long buildup to their trip to state, the Lakers enter their final meet of the season with an impossible casual attitude.
"What I'm hoping is that the guys come with the idea of executing. I don't want them thinking about it, I just want them to come to race," Peel added.
"We only had one senior scorer last year. We have guys expecting to move up. We are thinking, if you finished ninth, let's move into finals. If you finished sixth, let's move into the top three. We were fifth last year and based on that we are saying, ‘Let's be fourth this year, that would be cool.' Hey, we might be eighth, who knows? But the guys know it would be a significant accomplishment to finish that high with such a small team."
"We try and stay light," Fogel said. "We keep things fresh and have fun. If you stress too much, you won't race well. So, you always have to stay having fun through the hard work.
"The team is so fun that you want to go as fast as you can, not just for yourself, but for the other guys."
That being said, the excitement of making history, again, is tough to contain.
"The guys are pretty wound up," Peel said. "They are pretty pumped. We have a guy in every event but the 100 butterfly. I don't think it is far-fetched that we get school records in seven of those 10 events."
"Everyone is really energized," Henning said. "We are feeling pretty good right now."
"Our coaches do a great job getting us mentally and physically ready for the big meets," Brown said. "We definitely want to break a lot of records. That is what we have our sights set on."
"They give trophies for the top four teams," Fogel said. "We want to come home with one of those."
Prelims kick off today at noon, with Spring Lake in prime seeding position across the board. Right off the bat, the Lakers hold the top-seed in the 200-yard medley relay, over a second ahead of No. 2 Grand Rapids Christian.
Sophomore Cam Peel holds the Lakers other No. 1 seed heading into the meet with the top time in Division 3 for the 100 freestyle, just ahead of Joey Wachter in fourth. Peel also holds the No. 3 seed in the 50 freestyle. Henning joins the sprinter crew with the 23rd seed in the 50 and 19th seed in the 100, while Sam Sella holds 27th in the 50 and 28th in the 100.
Sophomore K.J. Losee sits fourth in the 200 freestyle and second in the 500 freestyle, while Fogel holds the 22nd seed in the 500.
The Spring Lake sprint relay team will have to bump up a spot if they want to crack the top heat at finals, as they sit in ninth in the 200-freestyle relay.
In the back half of the lineup, Wachter holds the No. 6 seed in the 100 backstroke, while Brown sits in 17th in the 100 breaststroke.
Finally, the Lakers hold the No. 2 seed in the 400-freestyle relay.
Finals on Saturday kick off at noon.