The Bucs will look to build off of a nine-man state team from a year ago, returning school-record holder and All-State performer Grant Ruster, along with seven other state qualifiers. With roster numbers continuing to spike, Grand Haven will look to establish itself as a contender for the top-half of the O-K Red Conference.
Meanwhile, Spring Lake will struggle with numbers but certainly not with speed. After their highest finish ever at the Division 3 state meet last season, the Lakers hope to break into the top tier of the O-K Greater Grand Rapids Swim Conference, as well as the state finals.
Let’s break down what to expect from our local swimmers and divers this winter.
Head coach: Doug Thorne, seventh year
Last year: 7-4 overall, fourth in O-K Red, 21st at state finals
Key returners: Seniors Grant Ruster, Jordan Devries and Matt Fahey, juniors Eli Vandenbrand, Mark Wilgenburg, Griffen Kelly and Jackson Hamm and sophomore Carter Brown.
The Bucs return the core of their run from last season, and all of their state-meet points. Ruster will lead the way between the lane lines after securing a state cut in every swimming event last season. In the end, he finished sixth at the Division 1 state meet in the 200 individual medley, securing All-State Honors and setting a school record in the process.
Devries returns as the Bucs other individual state meet scorer. The sprint freestyle specialist finished 14th overall in the 100 freestyle last year.
Brown rounds out the Bucs’ returning state-meet scorers as he led off the Bucs’ 14th-place effort in the 200-medley relay, joining Devries, Ruster and their only graduated state qualifier from a year ago, Sam Hankinson.
Fahey, Vandenbrand, Wilgenburg, Kelly and Hamm finish off Grand Haven’s returning qualifiers.
“I think it raises the bar for everybody and gives them a lot of confidence,” Grand Haven head coach Doug Thorne said after last season’s state meet. “Carter Brown has a bright future ahead of him and Matt Fahey is another kid that has improved a lot. I think the expectations will be a lot higher for them.
“Grant had one of the best swims of the whole meet, he is a great athlete and an even harder worker. Jordan is another kid that worked his butt off to get to this point, and this is only going to motivate them to work even harder in the offseason.”
With nearly 50 athletes on last year’s roster, a host of swimmers will return to the pool for another crack at the state meet, with a breakout or two a near guarantee.
Joining the ranks of an already promising senior class and host of returning talent is standout Grand Haven water polo captain Mason Fritz. Fritz has led the Bucs in scoring since his sophomore season on the varsity water polo team and utilizes quick moves and unmatched power to control his opponents and the game.
After quitting swimming years ago to focus on off-season water polo, Fritz is set to return to the pool for his final campaign to see what he is capable of.
The Bucs boast an incoming freshmen class of 10 athletes. Finding pearls in the surf is common for the Grand Haven program; expect one of those youngsters to make an impact this season.
With their top-end speed returning and promising young talent to develop, the Bucs have high expectations for the 2017-18 season. Thorne hopes a high finish in the perennially competitive O-K Red will catapult them into a top-tier finish in the state.
“West Ottawa and Rockford are always strong, and will continue to be strong this year,” he said. “Hudsonville has a very young but talented group returning which will make them better this year and Grandville will continue to be competitive. We hope to fall near the top.
“We continue to strive to be an elite team when the season is all done come March. Our big goal is to hopefully have our team finish the year as a top-10 state team.”
Head coach: Rob Peel, second year
Last year: 5-4 overall, third in conference, 5th at state meet
Key returners: Seniors Drew Fogel, Will Brown and Garrett Henning, junior Cam Peel, sophomores Kevin Losee and Joey Wachter
The Lakers return the bulk of their state team and a mountain of accolades after graduating just one senior state qualifier in Charlie Slajus.
They return three individual All-State performers in Wachter, Losee and Peel, as well as the entirety of their All-State, third-place, school record-setting 200-medley relay team and three of four swimmers from their All-State, runner-up, school record-setting 400-freestyle relay team.
Wachter returns holding the 100 backstroke record, while Losee holds the 200 I.M., which was previously owned by Fogel, Peel holds the 50 freestyle record, and Brown the 100 breaststroke record.
It is safe to say Spring Lake will enjoy another historic season in the pool.
Returning on the boards are Noah Locascio and Johnny Meulenbelt. Locascio came one step away from a point-scoring finish at state last year, falling to the final round of preliminary cuts for a 23rd place finish.
While their returning accolades are impressive, most of Spring Lake’s best swimmers have tremendous room to improve. Losee, Wachter and Peel all have plenty of time left in high school to watch their times drop, while Fogel, Brown and Henning will look to solidify themselves in the record books during their senior seasons.
On top of all the returning talent, coach Peel is confident some of their newbies can step up and contribute, which will be key in the face of small roster numbers.
“We again have a very small team, but we’ve got some young swimmers just starting the sport that look like they have got the potential to become really solid contributors and a nice core of kids who constantly compete.
“Our challenge this year, like last year, is to consistently make efforts to get better, to improve our technique and get stronger so we’re ready to be at our best when the meets are the biggest.”
The Lakers certainly stepped up for the big meets last year. They finished third at the conference meet behind perennial powerhouses Forest Hills and East Grand Rapids and fifth at the big dance and will look to improve on both of those impressive finishes this year.
“There are 11 swimming races in a high school meet, last year we set seven new school records. I think it is not unrealistic that all 11 will be broken this year,” Peel said. “While our team is small in number of swimmers, it is tall in talent. Our team should be really fun to watch this year for any fan of fast swimming.”