Final Lap

Josh VanDyke • Mar 9, 2018 at 12:15 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — Just one year after qualifying nine swimmers from a relatively novice squad, the 2017-18 Grand Haven boys swim team is sending 15 experienced swimmers to this weekend's Division 1 state meet at Eastern Michigan University.

And this time, their sights are set on more than just scoring points.

‘We had a wonderful season leading into the conference meet," said Grand Haven head coach Doug Thorne. "We had a lot of success during our dual meet season due to our team depth and the overall talent level on our roster. Now, it's all about individuals making a push in their events, and I really think we're going to surprise some people.

"We're planning on proving to people that we are more than just a bunch of hard-working kids; we're a pretty talented bunch, too."

Senior standout Grant Ruster headlines the Buccaneers' list of state qualifiers.

In his third year as a state-qualifying performer, Ruster will spearhead three relay teams and is seeded 11th in the 200-yard individual medley with a qualifying time of 1 minute, 56 seconds.

In the 200 medley relay, Ruster will team up with sophomore Carter Brown, senior Mason Fritz and junior Mark Wilgenburg on a foursome that enters the meet as the 19th seed with a time of 1:39.38.

The 200 freestyle relay team of Ruster, Wilgenburg, junior Eli Vandenbrand and senior Jordan DeVries is seeded 15th with a time of 1:28.72; while the 400 freestyle relay team of Ruster, Fritz, Vandenbrand and Devries is seeded 24th with a time of 3:18.85.

Fritz is also seeded 26th in the 100 butterfly event with a time of 53.65 seconds.

"Grant is the main focus for us as a returning All-State athlete," added Thorne. "We're going to press all three of our relay teams to score at the state meet. All three of those groups are pretty close to breaking school records, which is something that hasn't been done here in a long, long time.

"Mason Fritz in the 100-yard butterfly event is someone I am really proud of. He's worked his butt off since coming over from the water polo program to join us this winter. He bought in from Day 1, and he's a very coachable kid. I think he's really progressed nicely over the course of the season, and I think he'll be on the blocks on the second day at the state meet.

Thorne didn't have to do much recruiting to get Fritz to join the swim squad in his final year of eligibility.

"He wanted to come out because he's got a lot of friends on the team already," he said. "He swam when he was younger in middle school and then decided to give it up during his freshman season because he wanted to focus on water polo. I'm certainly not going to complain about an All-State caliber athlete joining the program, and he's been a great addition to our team in terms of work ethic, as well."

Other notable state qualifiers for the Bucs include sophomore Louis Malott in the 1-meter diving event with a qualifying score of 297.3; Devries in the 100 freestyle with a time of 48.84 seconds; Vandenbrand in the 100 freestyle with a time of 48.89 seconds; senior Matt Fahey in the 500 freestyle with a time of 4:54.38 and Brown in the 100 backstroke with a time of 54.37.

"Louis has put together a very strong season as a sophomore. He's really stepped up and scored some big points for us this season," added Thorne. "Jordan DeVries is a senior who was a state qualifier last year and finished 14th overall in the 100 freestyle. We want to see him continue to push himself toward a possible All-State finish. He's been training all year to get to this point.

The Buccaneer program is well stocked for the future, with juniors Jackson Hamm, Ethan Ball, Griffen Kelly and Chris Akselberg, sophomore Jack Timmer and freshmen Thomas and Michael Macdonald also qualifying as state-meet alternatives this weekend.

"Jackson Hamm really became a force as the season went on," said Thorne. "He got sick last year right before the conference meet and didn't really get a chance to showcase his talents. He really had a great taper this year and made the most of it. I'm really proud of him for sticking it out and he's put together a great season.

"We're really excited to be bringing that many kids to the state meet. It's a testament to how hard the entire team has worked to send 15 kids"


The senior trio of Fritz, Ruster and Devries have been the dons of the program this year, as they help lead the Buccaneer contingent toward new heights.

"It's been fun to watch us grow over the years," said Fritz. "We weren't necessarily the strongest team in middle school, but we've gotten better and better every year since then. We've put in the work and now we're in a position to possibly break school records and end the year on a high note.

"We're feeling good at this point. A lot of us haven't tapered down yet, so we've stuck with our training and worked out hard up until conference. We really wanted to push ourselves in the relay events, so a lot of us decided to delay our tapers. We're hoping that means we're saving our best for last."

For Devries, the opportunity to close out his high school among friends is a unique feeling.

"It's exciting. This is our last chance as seniors to go out and compete," he said. "We've been swimming together since middle school and the fact that this is kind of the last hurrah for this particular group is kind of exciting, and I'm really looking forward to it.

"Between swimming and water polo, this group knows each other really well. I came over to Grand Haven around seventh grade, and we've been friends ever since, and I know Mason and Grant have been friends even longer. It's just a fun group of guys and it makes practice more enjoyable. We're also all very competitive, so we push each other a lot, too.

"There's zero tension on this team. I know a lot of teams can't say that, but we really do all get along and cheer for each other to do well."

For Ruster, his third trip to the state meet brings high expectations but no stress.

"I've qualified the last two years, so it definitely helps take care of the jitters leading up the events," he said. "I can just go in and focus on breaking records and performing my best."

After a strong start to the season, including state-qualifying cuts in all of his individual events after the opening meet of the season, Ruster had to battle through a flu bug that hampered him during the conference meet.

"I feel a lot better now, and I feel like I've back to full speed," he said. "I tried to power through it at the conference meet, but I just didn't have the speed or stamina to put out my normal times. I'm ready to swim fast and put some good times together this weekend though."

As far as personal expectations, all three seniors are hoping for strong finishes, especially Ruster, who finished sixth overall in the 200 individual medley event as a junior.

"I'd like to make it back in that range this year," he said. "The goal is to always do better than you did before, but I just want to swim fast and make sure I'm putting out good times. I qualified in the first meet of the season, but it's been a long season since then, but I feel like everything is coming right together now."

Fritz, who made his state cut in early February, is hoping to clinch All-State honors.

"I made the state cut a few weeks before the conference event and that was a great feeling because I really didn't want to have the pressure of having to make the cut at our conference meet.

"I want to place top eight in my event and the relays I'm in. I think that's a possibility if I put it all out there."

For Devries, the chance to be immortalized on the school record board would be a great closing act to his Buccaneer career.

"I really want to break some school records in the relay events," he said. "I think we can do it in the 200 and 400 relay. The 200 record has stood since 2006 and the 400 has stood since 1998.

"It would mean everything to me if we found a way to break those. I wouldn't even care if it gets broken next year. It would amazing to be able to say that we held that record at one point in time."

As far as their coach is concerned, this group of swimmers has a chance to put themselves in elite company.

"We're going to fly this weekend and the kids are excited to get out there and represent Grand Haven on the biggest stage," Thorne added. "Last year, we finished 20th in the state, and I'm hoping we can do a little better than that this time around.

"My ultimate goal would be placing in the top 10 in the state. I think that would be a huge feat for this group and this program and be a nice icing on the cake for a season that we've already had a lot of success in. Hopefully, we can reach our potential and be right in the mix as an elite program by the end of the weekend.

"We'll see what happens, but this a great group of athletes, and I know we're going to swim fast this weekend."

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