Despite the Lakers taking seven first-place victories to the Bucs’ five, Grand Haven’s 40-man roster turned in more second-, third-, and fourth-place finishes that propelled it to the 99-87 victory.
“With this being our first meet, I’m thrilled we were able to come out on top,” said Grand Haven first-year coach Doug Thorne. “I’m still not sure what I have talent-wise in every event, but I think we had a little more depth tonight that helped us prevail.
“Penny Zacek runs a traditionally strong program, but I think they’re down a little bit,” he added. “But I knew both teams would teams would compete and it turned out to be a fun, exciting meet.”
To see more photos from the meet, click here.
A swimmer that wasn’t a part of the rivalry a year ago but played a big role in Grand Haven’s win on Thursday was Japanese exchange student Takuya Kobayaski. He led a 1-2-3 Bucs’ sweep in the 200-yard individual medley; pushed Spring Lake standout Nick Zacek to a tight race in the 100 butterfly before losing by five-tenths of a second; and was a member of the victorious 200 medley relay.
“In 22 years of coaching, it seems like every year you get an exchange student out and most of the time it’s a situation like, ‘Well, it’s a hobby, or just something to do,’” Thorne said. “But once he jumped into the water, we knew we had something special. He has a chance to make a very big impact for us this season.”
Kobayaski is living with teammate Aaron Venema’s family during the school year and swimming has created a tight bond between the two. Venema won the 500 freestyle and was runner-up to Zacek in the 200 freestyle on Thursday.
“At first, I thought (Kobayaski) would be kind of an intermediate swimmer,” Venema admitted. “But he’s no joke.
“I remember one day we were practicing, and he’s like, ‘OK, now I’m going to swim hard.’ And he just blew by me. He’s already better than me. Hopefully I can keep up with him this year.”
Thorne also commended the performances of a trio of freshmen — Hunter Jonas, Spencer Poort and Kameron Damaska — as they scored valuable points in several events. Thorne also raved about junior Rory Thibault, who won the 100 breaststroke in 1 minute, 7.63 seconds.
“Rory’s a utility swimmer, I can put him anywhere, but his specialty is the breaststroke,” Thorne said. “He had a great split to start the meet on the medley relay.”
For Spring Lake, head coach Penny Zacek was thrilled to see senior Trevor Billinghurst step up and turn in a terrific meet. He had a hand in four Lakers’ victories — in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events, and as a member of the 200- and 400-yard free relays. Billinghurst has filled in some events for Thomas Kramer, who was a valuable contributer to the team last year but decided not to swim this winter.
“I really want to finish in the top 16 at state — in the 50 and maybe the 100,” Billinghurst said. “My ultimate goal is to place at state.”
Spring Lake finished eighth at last year’s Division 3 state finals and Billinghurst said the goal is to better that result come early March.
“Coach is pushing us really hard in practice, and this team has a great resolve,” he said.
Spring Lake also scored wins in the 100 backstroke thanks to senior Andrew Hintz, and in diving, where junior Erik Lukkari’s score of 245.55 beat out runner-up Casey Carlson of Grand Haven by nearly 20 points.
A Laker who could contend for one or more individual state titles in March is senior Nick Zacek. As his mom and coach, Penny Zacek has seen the dedication her son has put into the sport during the off-season.
“He does a lot of training on his own,” she said. “He does a couple different dry land workouts. I think that helped him tonight. In that 200 freestyle, he was competing against Venema, but Nick’s walls were the difference. He’s just so explosive coming out of his turns off the wall and that dry land training plays a big role.”