For close followers of the Grand Haven swim program, it may have looked quite strange to see Jason Lintjer walk into the Grand Haven Aquatic Center on Thursday sporting a red Spring Lake T-shirt.
Lintjer, a 2008 Grand Haven graduate and the Lakers' first-year head coach, admitted the situation was just as strange.
“It was weird, I gotta admit,” he said with a grin. “It was weird getting ready in the visitor's locker room. I've never experienced that before.”
Both Lintjer and his assistant coach, fellow Grand Haven graduate Aaron Beebe, enjoyed tremendous high school careers with the Bucs, including being a part of their Division 1 state champion 200-yard medley relay squad in 2008, while leading Grand Haven to a third-place finish at the finals.
So Thursday was likely also the first time that both Lintjer and Beebe weren't exactly thrilled to see the Bucs come out on the winning end, but their Lakers' squad couldn't match the Bucs' overall depth in Grand Haven's 112-73 victory. It was Grand Haven's opening meet of the season, while Spring Lake's dual meet record falls to 1-2.
“We've had a lot of guys sick with the flu type stuff, but so did Grand Haven,” Lintjer said. “We had some kids miss all week and just showed up tonight. It's a Division 1 team against Division 3, so it's always going to be tough. Their depth was the difference.”
The flu bug has also swept through Grand Haven's team, as head coach Doug Thorne said he had 7-8 kids miss the meet, but he had several swimmers step up, one being Trey Jennings. The senior was dominant in the 500-yard freestyle, winning over teammate Alexander Apostle by nearly 42 seconds at 5 minutes, 18.39 seconds. He also won the 200 freestyle in 1:56.04.
“It was just a good way to start the season, especially winning against Spring Lake,” Jennings said. “I'm very proud of this team, especially the young guys who stepped up. We've got a lot of kids back and we're just hoping to compete in all of our meets this season, no matter who we're up against.”
“Trey's defintely going to be our powerhouse,” Thorne said. “He's our go-to person and I can move him around to basically anything and he'll go out there and compete.”
Thorne also liked the opening times from a pair of Bucs' relays, including a first-place time of 1:49.16 from the 200 medley relay, and a first-place 1:38.95 finish from the 200 free relay. The medley squad featured Josh Tooker, Rory Thibault, Kameron Damaska, and Spencer Poort, while the freestyle relay had Thibault and Damaska, as well as Noah Baker and Jennings.
“Those were very respectable times,” Thorne said. “It's still a ways away from qualifying for state, but by the end of the year, I feel they can each get there.”
Tooker had a strong meet for the Bucs as well, winning the 200 individual medley by about a second over teammate Thibault. He also finished second at 1:00.71 to Spring Lake's Jesse Ruter in a tight finish in the 100 backstroke.
Poort captured the 100 freestyle in a healthy four seconds at 52.35, while Thibault had a tremendous opening showing in the 100 breaststroke, capturing first in 1:07.60.
“It was a gut-check for our kids to perform,” Thorne said. “We had a lot of kids out, but this is a cross-town rivalry and it's always a fun meet. Our kids came to play and they did what they needed to do.”
The diving competition was full of talent, as three reigning state qualifiers tried to outperform one another in Grand Haven's Casey Carlson and Griffen Dwyer, and Spring Lake's Erik Lukkari.
Carlson, a senior, led after every round and totaled 237.00, beating out the Lakers' Lukkari by nearly 15 points. Dwyer, who caused many fans to flinch by coming excruciatingly close to the board on a pair of his dives, was third with a 213.10.
The highlight of the meet for the Lakers was turned in by Ruter in the backstroke as he beat the Division 3 state cut of 1:00.59 by a full second.
Spring Lake also picked up a nice win by Blake Henning in the 100 butterfly, as he edged the Bucs' Hunter Jonas.
Ruter said he believes the Lakers have adapted well to the youthful enthusiasm of Lintjer and Beebe. The duo replaced Penny Zacek, who stepped down from the position after turning the program into a perennial state finals qualifier.
"There's been a few differences, obviously there's going to be some going from a girl coach to two guy coaches," he said. "I think we're a little more close with them because they're young. And the practices seem more tough this year.
"It's definitely nice learning from (Beebe, an All-American swimmer at Grand Valley)," Ruter added. "In a way, it's a little intimidating. It's like, 'Am I living up to the standards he wants or not?'"
Thorne believes it's a great hire for Spring Lake, as he hopes every local swim program remains strong.
"Jason and I have had many conversations, Aaron and myself too, about promoting swimming in this area and taking it to the level of say, a Holland aquatic program or a Rockford. If we all put better kids together to train in the summer, the better it will make us all in the long run."