For the six seniors honored in Thursday night’s ceremony, Sam Hankinson, Tom Stock, Garret Miracle, Kolton Epplett, Sawyer Hamm, Josh Boehnke and the 40-plus other swimmers gathered on the pool deck, this season was about a lot more than winning — it was about family.
“This is the only family I have ever known and they are very special to me,” Hankinson said of his teammates. “Everybody on this team is very important to me.
“It’s all about being a part of the team for me,” Hamm said. “They are like my family. It means a lot.”
Grand Haven head coach Doug Thorne spent the majority of the senior night ceremony talking about each senior’s dedication to their teammates, a fierce commitment that permeates their swimming and diving experience.
“They are dedicated, they would run through a wall for me and this team. That’s fun,” he said. “As coaches, these are the kids that you want.”
“As I grew up, I watched these kids above me go on to bigger and better things, then it was finally my turn with my best friends. I just knew I had to lead them well,” Hankinson said.
“Cheering for other people helps you benefit, and the dedicational benefit, it’s huge,” Stock added.
This group of seniors came together from a few different paths. Some, like Hankinson and Stock, were thrown into the pool against their will at an early age and began to bond there. Others, like Hamm and diver Garret Miracle, were thrown into the mix midway through high school. By the end of it all, their bond has become sacred.
“It’s really the only was to bond people, basically a lot of pain and suffering everyday in practice,” Stock said.
All the pain and suffering finally paid off for the brotherly Bucs, who put together an inspired performance to send off their seniors in their last meet at home.
“The atmosphere in here with our team was a lot bigger and higher than it has been in a long time because of them. They are a group that leads this group well,” coach Thorne said.
The meet went off without a hitch as the Bucs took nine of 12 events, kicking things off with a 1-2 finish in the 200-yard medley relay. The team of Carter Brown, Hankinson, Grant Ruster and Eli Vandenbrand took top honors.
Ruster took the next victory in the 200 IM in a season-best and state-qualifying time of 1:59.15, while Hankinson took third in 2:09.77. The two met again in the 100 breaststroke, with Ruster winning in 1:01.6, ahead of Hankinson in second place at 1:05.42
Vandenbrand returned for a win in the 50 freestyle along with Seth Roffey, who both finished in 23.87. Hamm took fourth in 24.29.
Epplett, Boehnke and Stock also took on the 50 freestyle, clocking 25.67, 26.49 and 28.24, respectively.
Miracle snagged third in 1-meter diving, checking in at 162.30 points.
Epplet returned for what has become his trademark event, the 100 butterfly, dropping 0.53 seconds to finish at 1:03.71.
Stock and Hamm teamed up once again in the 100 freestyle, finishing in 1:02.18 and 1:05.30. Jordan Devries took first place in 50.55.
Matt Fahey took a win in the 500 freestyle in 5:05.93, dropping nearly three seconds off his seed time, while the Bucs team of Ruster, Jackson Hamm, Fahey and Devries sprinted their way to a victory in the 200 freestyle relay in 1:33.75.
The wins kept coming down the stretch for the Bucs with Carter Brown and Ethan Ball finishing 1-2 in the 100 backstroke.
Finally, as the “A” Grand Haven 400 freestyle relay finished second by a nose, the seniors enjoyed a continuous 6x25 freestyle relay in the diving well to close out their final meet at Grand Haven Aquatic Center.
“We had huge drops tonight across the board,” coach Thorne said. “It was a good meet all the way, I’m excited.”
Even after his stellar performance— scoring in each of his events and contributing to a relay victory, Hankinson was all about his team after their well-earned victory.
“It’s really special to the team, we wanted to come through and send everyone home with a good feeling and set the tone for taper. Last night we had our hair bleaching party and the intensity in there was really good. Everybody was ready for this meet all week.”