The Bucs pushed through three meets in five days last week, picking up victories over Spring Lake and Grandville before settling in for a week of tough training, ahead of Thursday’s trip to Rockford.
Two tough weeks finally caught up with Grand Haven, who fell to the Rams by a final score of 167-148.
“We are a little disappointed. We expected to come in here and give Rockford a meet,” Grand Haven head coach Doug Thorne said. “We swam flat. We didn’t bring our A-game; we had a C-plus — no excuses for it.
“Hopefully, they are just tired. We have been cranking on them in practice all week long. We just didn’t have it tonight.”
Grant Ruster led the way for Grand Haven, picking up wins in the 200-yard individual medley in 1 minute, 58.42 seconds and the 100 breaststroke in 1:02.37, before turning a back-to-back and anchoring the Bucs’ first-place effort in the 400 freestyle relay, immediately following the breaststroke.
Matt Fahey nabbed the Bucs’ only other individual win with an inspired run through the 500 freestyle, dropping nearly two seconds to come in at 5:06.64.
“Grant Ruster had a huge meet,” Thorne said. “He had a great split on the end of the 400 (freestyle relay) right after the breaststroke. That tells me his training is where it needs to be.
“Fahey had a great meet, also. He works really hard and deserves everything he gets out of it.”
The four event victories weren’t enough to overcome a tough start for Grand Haven. Rockford jumped ahead early with a 1-2 finish in the 200 medley relay and gave the Bucs a taste of their own medicine the rest of the way, using depth points to hold their lead.
“To be honest, I guessed wrong on the lineup,” Thorne admitted. “I split our medley relay and it cost us. They split theirs and ended up going one, two. That is a hard thing to come back from, being down 15-5 after the first event.
“Rockford showed their depth tonight. They were excited for this meet and were ready to swim hard, and it showed. They just got up on us early and never looked back.”
Carter Brown, Thomas MacDonald, Mason Fritz and Mark Wilgenburg took third in the opening relay in 1:44.89; while Ethan Ball, Jackson Hamm, Griffin Kelly and Eli Vandenbrand took fourth.
Things didn’t improve in the 200 freestyle, as Rockford took first and second place once again. Jordan Devries grabbed third in 1:55.44 ahead of Fahey in fourth (1:55.44), Michael MacDonald in fifth (1:56.62) and Kelly in seventh (1:56.95).
Ruster’s winning effort in the individual medley was met with a 2-3 finish by Rockford to stifle the point swing. Fritz took fourth (2:10.92), Brown fifth (2:13.13) and Thomas MacDonald seventh (2:15.56) to buoy their total.
Grand Haven needed a breath heading into the diving break and hoped to catch it with Vandenbrand in the 50 freestyle. The splash-and-dash went to a photo finish, with Vandenbrand coming third at 23.16, behind two Rams at 22.96 and 23.07. Wilgenburg (23.62), and Ball (24.07) took sixth and seventh place, grabbing a few points for the Bucs to bring a 65-40 deficit into diving.
Top-diver Lois Malott hung with the leaders through six rounds, but came up short on his last dive to finish in third at 192.45 points. Alec Slaggert took fifth (126.30), Carter Jones-Hirr sixth (124.70) and Adam Wassell seventh (105.65) for Grand Haven.
A string of top three finishes kept the Rams from pulling away late, but didn’t bring the Bucs any closer to victory.
Fritz and Wilgenburg returned for a 2-3 finish in the 100 butterfly in 54.40 and 59.27, respectively, while Devries and Vandenbrand did the same in the 100 freestyle in 51.34 and 51.52.
Hamm, Ruster, Wilgenburg and Devries took second in the 200 freestyle relay in 1:32.71, ahead of Jack Timmer, Kelly, Michael MacDonald and Fahey in third at 1:37.18.
Brown (59.03) and Ball (1:00.79) took second and third in the 100 backstroke, before Ruster and the 400 freestyle relay crew took wins in the final two events to cut the lead down to size.
“We just didn’t swim well,” Thorne said. “We have to stay the course and not give up on ourselves and keep training the way we know how. We will get back in the water (today) and get fired up again.”
The result was hard to swallow for Thorne and the Bucs, but did not soil the season, or the potential this team has for a stellar postseason campaign.
“At conference it will be a whole different meet,” Thorne said. “I think we can give Rockford all they want at a conference meet. We have a little more depth, despite what they showed today. We just have to keep working hard and it will be there. We have another big one against Hudsonville next week, so it is right back to work.”
Grand Haven returns to competition at Hudsonville on Jan. 25, with start time scheduled for 6 p.m.