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Tribune top five teams No. 4: Spring Lake boys swim and dive

Duncan MacLean • Jul 10, 2018 at 12:54 AM

The Tribune is counting down our top five male and female athletes, as well as teams for the 2017-18 athletic season. Our No. 4 best team of the year is the Spring Lake boys swimming and diving team.

Every athlete dreams of leaving a lasting legacy, of etching their name into the history books of their program.

The Spring Lake boys swim and dive team penned an entirely new book this winter.

It all started with a first draft. In March 2017, the Lakers finished off their outline of how to redefine a program, taking a team full of underclassmen to a fifth-place finish at the Division 3 state meet. It was the highest finish in program history.

That historic draft went to print, closing the old record book. Returning the bulk of their big-time scorers, Spring Lake cracked a fresh spine, turned to page one and did themselves two better this winter, kicking off a new era of swimming with a third-place finish at the state meet.

On the way, they took a third-place finish in one of the most competitive conferences around, broke eight of their 11 possible school records, six home pool records and held a team GPA of 3.55.

Their five All-Conference athletes (Drew Fogel, Will Brown, Cam Peel, K.J. Losee and Joey Wachter) were the most selected for a single season in school history and all five would go on to earn All-State honors with top-eight finishes at the big dance.

“We’re in rare territory never before seen here,” said Spring Lake head coach Rob Peel. “They have built something really special.”

A prolific home opener served as the perfect first chapter for this novel team. Four pool records and two varsity records fell in their first laps at the Spring Lake Aquatic Center in early December. The story even established conflict — a 20-point loss to a conference contender Forest Hills, despite winning 11 of 12 events.

The rest of the regular season followed suit, providing compelling rising action through the winter. Even as records and state cuts piled up, dual meet wins wouldn’t come. With a handful of the best swimmers in the state, the Lakers couldn’t keep up in dual meets, frequently dropping close contests down the stretch.

A pair of runner-up finishes at the Wildcat and Spring Lake Invitational reminded the Lakers of their year’s-end potential, but even so, the conference meet couldn’t come soon enough.

The regular season managed to develop characters ahead of a dramatic climax, as all 11 swimming pool records fell at Spring Lake. Six were broken by Lakers; while conference rival Forest Hills and Division 3 powerhouse Holland Christian split the rest.

All the while, the authors of this historic season stuck together, creating tremendous camaraderie in and out of the pool and translating that into beautiful prose.

“We had 11 of 11 pool records broken at Spring Lake,” Peel said. “Five of them were visiting teams. That shows the quality of our conference and West Michigan swimming in general. These kids live for that competition. Being exposed to the best of the best just makes them want to be better. They see Henry Schuette from Forest Hills drop a 20.6 in season and think, ‘What is so different about him?’

“These kids dream big and encourage each other. They work really hard because that is the expectation that they have established, and they manage to have fun doing it. What is better than that?”

The big dreams of the regular season came to fruition in the postseason as Spring Lake penned the conclusion of their breakout campaign.

Occupying the same conference as eventual Division 3 runner-up EGR and Division 1’s fourth-place Forest Hills, the Lakers had their work cut out for them to make this story a happy ending.

A conference title and conference, pool and school record for the 200-yard medley relay team of Wachter, Brown, Losee and Peel, along with two more gold medals for Losee in the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle and a slew of top-five finishes powered Spring Lake to a third-place finish at the O-K Greater Grand Rapids Swim Conference meet. They even snuck two more qualifiers into the state meet as senior Garrett Henning and junior Sam Sella qualified in the 50 and 100 freestyles.

As disciplined storytellers, the Lakers saved their best work for the climax of their season at Saginaw Valley University. Seven school records fell as five of the seven members of the state team earned All-State honors.

Peel took things one step further, claiming the first Spring Lake state championship since 2012 with a state-record breaking performance in the 100 freestyle.

The record wouldn’t last the meet, as Byron Center’s Nolan Briggs snatched it in his final race as a senior leading off the Bulldogs’ 400 freestyle relay in the consolation heat.

Not to be outdone, Peel turned in one of three sub 44-second splits in the state across all three divisions as the final Laker leg in the championship final.

Peel nearly ran out of ink by the end of the season, becoming the first Laker to crack the all-time top 10 times list in every swimming event. His teammates Losee and Wachter were close behind, making 10 and eight lists each. All in all, Spring Lake posted 24 swims worthy of slots on their all-time top 10 lists.

“We don’t have a phenomenal swim history at Spring Lake, not like East Grand Rapids or anything, but we have had a swim team since the early ‘70s,” coach Peel said. “We’re closing in on 45 or 50 years of swimming. That is a huge number of swimmers. That makes the top 10 a special group to break into. These kids right now are launching the program to new heights.”

Standing atop the record board at season’s end were Wachter, Brown, Losee and Peel in the 200 medley relay; Fogel in the 200 I.M.; Peel in the 50 and 100 freestyle; Wachter in the 100 backstroke; Brown in the 100 breaststroke; and Wachter, Fogel, Losee and Peel in the 400 freestyle relay.

“All we are doing as a coaching staff is trying to create an environment where the kids can be a part of something special,” Peel said.

“We got fifth in 2017 and that was great. We got third this year and I didn’t think we would. These kids get so much out of each other and push each other so hard. They want to be fast and they want to put the work in.”

Even with two school record holders graduating, this winter’s sequel is shaping up to be another best seller.

“Now, it seems like the sky is the limit,” Peel said. “These kids are all so good individually, but they recognize they are better together.

“We lost some good scorers from last year’s team, but if a few baseline kids step up and fill the relays, we maybe could do even better this year.”

The Spring Lake boys swim team’s reinvention is our fourth best of the year and is still to be continued.

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