Chipping away

Duncan MacLean • Jan 26, 2017 at 11:17 PM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — With two teams now ranked in the Division 1 top-10 power rankings, the O-K Red swimming conference serves as a proving ground for any program it takes on.

Thursday saw the Grand Haven boys swim team take on No. 9 Rockford at the Grand Haven Aquatic Center in an attempt to hang with the big boys of the conference and come one step closer to a state championship meet appearance.

Grand Haven posted some stellar time drops upon returning home, but ultimately fell to the Rams, 137-169.

The matchup with Rockford marked the Bucs’ first meet at home this season, and they made the most of it.

“Wonderful,” said Grand Haven head coach Doug Thorne of his boys’ performance. “It was so nice to finally have a meet in our home pool, and the kids swam beautifully.”

The highlight of the meet came right away, following a rousing rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”, the 200-yard medley relay teams lined up at the blocks to kick off the O-K Red showdown.

The Bucs team of Carter Brown, Grant Ruster, Seth Roffey and Jordan DeVries exploded out of the gate, stunning the Rams with a first-place finish.

Their final time of 1 minute, 42.95 seconds clocks in 3.10 seconds faster than their previous best-time this season, and sits 1.31 seconds off the Division 1 state cut.

“The fastest we’ve been all year long is a 1:46,” Thorne said. “This was the first time we really pressed it and we almost qualified. I was afraid we would have to taper and shave that relay for conference, but I think now we can do it before.”

Jordan DeVries highlighted the event, throwing down a 22.39 for the final 50-yard split.

DeVries has been one of Grand Haven’s premiere swimmers so far this season, leading the team in the sprint freestyle events. The split points to DeVries heading toward that elusive Division 1 cut before the conference championship rolls around.

The medley’s backstroke split also stood out to coach Thorne, with a youngster, freshmen Carter Brown, punching up to hang with the veterans.

“We’ve got a freshmen backstroker on that who is as fast as we had at the state meet last year, so he has stepped up. I’m really excited about him,” Thorne said.

Brown is one of the many swimmers that have emerged from a crowded Bucs roster this season and risen to a high level of competition. A few of them have risen high enough to take a shot at the big dance.

“The middle of the road guys swam well, and there is a slew of them,” Thorne said. “I hope we have a couple kids who will qualify when it is all said and done, but we will see with the taper.”

The Bucs managed a few more highlights over the course of the meet. Jackson Hamm took third in the 200 freestyle in 2:00.05, touching-out teammate Ethan Ball just 0.01 seconds.

Griffen Kelly dropped nearly 3-seconds off his entry time in the 200 individual medley to take third place.

DeVries took a shot at qualifying in the 50 freestyle, falling sort at 23.04, but took second place in the process.

Louis Malott highlighted the diving competition, breaking his personal-best score by 18 points to take second place. He finished with 207 points.

“The divers have stepped up and are really coming along,” Thorne said. “Louis, the freshmen, broke 200 for the first time tonight, that’s huge.”

Ruster, Grand Haven’s lone state-qualifier so far, grabbed a “W” in the 100 butterfly, checking in at 54.96, a state-qualifying time. He also took second in the 100 backstroke, finishing in 59.47.

Matt Fahey and Ball represented in the 100 freestyle, taking third and fourth in 52.89 and 53.02, respectively.

Caleb Reeves was able to finish third in the 500 freestyle in 5:34.29, before the Bucs put up another impressive relay performance.

The 200 freestyle relay saw further state meet potential developed. Grant Ruster kicked it off with a 22.28 lead, nearly qualifying him individually for the championship, once again.

DeVries took on the second leg, putting the Bucs in the lead with a 22.67 effort. Fahey and Ball finished off the event in 24.08 and 23.51 to take second place.

“The 200 free relay, the kids swam great today,” Thorne said. “Eli Vandenbrand is out sick and he is the one we are counting on, we almost qualified without him here today.”

The Bucs’ time of 1:32.64 comes in just 0.35 seconds off the qualifying mark.

All of this spells good news for the Bucs, who are closing in on their season finale. With just two meets remaining, against Hudsonville and East Kentwood, pressure is building to qualify for the big one.

Swimmers who have no qualified before the end of the regular season will taper their training and shave excess body hair before the conference championship meet in February, to try and go as fast as possible and qualify for state.

Those who make it in before the end of the season will train full bore through the conference meet and save their speed burst for the state meet.

The hope is that the top-end swimmers, like Ruster and DeVries and the relay teams, will be able to hold off on tapering, while the mid-level swimmers will taper down and add some volume to the state team.

Things are materializing at the right time for the Bucs, with a flourish at the end of the season they very well could send a few surprises to Oakland University at the beginning of March.

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