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Winter Sports Preview: Grand Haven swim and dive

Duncan MacLean • Dec 11, 2018 at 12:30 AM

The Grand Haven boys swim and dive team had one of the best seasons in recent memory last year, utilizing an elite group of swimmers and a wealth of depth to grab a top-three finish at the O-K Red Conference Championship meet. Their stars then secured a top-10 finish at the state finals before leaving for graduation.

It will be up to the former depth swimmers to take over the big points, while a roster of 50 swimmers will work to fill in the gaps.

Let’s take a closer look at what to expect from the Grand Haven swim and dive team this winter.

Last year: 3rd O-K Red Conference, 10th at Division 1 state championships

Key athletes: Eli Vandenbrand, Mark Wilgenburg, Jackson Hamm, Ethan Ball, Chris Aksleberg, Aiden Latchaw, Jake Klahorst, Caleb Brees, Carter Brown, Nick Wilson, Jack Timmer, Louis Mallott, Michael MacDonald, Thomas MacDonald. 

Team outlook: Grand Haven has a slew of talented returners, including a pair of All-American and All-State honorees up top. Seniors Eli Vandenbrand and Mark Wilgenburg return after earning both distinctions as part of Grand Haven’s 200-yard freestyle relay last season, which posted the 73rd fastest time in the country and earned a bronze-medal finish at the Division 1 state finals.

Also returning as state qualifiers from last season are junior backstroker Carter Brown, who led off the Bucs’ 13th-place 200 medley relay last year, and junior diver Louis Malott, who qualified for the big dance and finished 33rd overall on the 1-meter board.

Grand Haven will feel the loss of the majority of their state meet points as Grant Ruster, Jordan Devries, and Mason Fritz all were a huge help to their relays and securing individual trips to the finals, but a long list of rising stars will help soften the blow.

Nick Wilson returns in fighting shape after leading the water polo team in scoring this fall, securing All-State honors there, while six swimmers return as point scorers from the O-K Red Conference meet in Jackson Hamm (9th 100 breaststroke, 16th 200 freestyle), Thomas MacDonald (16th 200 individual medley), Griffin Kelly (8th 100 butterfly, 12th 500 freestyle), Michael MacDonald (10th 500 freestyle), Ethan Ball (12th 100 backstroke) and Aiden Latchaw (14th 100 backstroke).

“We will be led by a very talented senior class,” said Grand Haven head coach Doug Thorne. “All-State and All-Americans Eli Vandenbrand and Mark Wilgenburg will lead the way, while Jackson Hamm, Ethan Ball, Chris Akselberg, Aiden Latchaw, Jake Klahorst and Caleb Reeves will bring their senior leadership to the table.

“Junior Carter Brown will return to lead the backstroke events, while juniors Nick Wilson and Jack Timmer will add some much-needed depth to this year’s team and state qualifier Louis Mallott will lead the diving team.

“We will get a lot of points from a talented set of twin brothers, sophomores Michael and Thomas MacDonald.”

Despite their wealth of returning talent, the Bucs are going to have to see a few of their leaders step their game up to replace the top-end points vacated by Ruster, Devries and Fritz. West Ottawa and Hudsonville are poised to top the conference once again, while the rest of the O-K Red is never out of contention. 

Big points from their younger swimmers will make the difference if the Bucs want to hang on to that third-place mark from last year at the conference meet, while staying top 10 at the state meet is a tougher task after graduating half of their All-American relay.

“For the most part, the Bucs are a fairly young team,” Thorne said. “It is early yet, but the team seems to be eager to get competitive. Hopefully, we can remain near the top of our O-K Red Conference when all is said and done.

“West Ottawa and Hudsonville are the two front-runner teams coming back with the most talent. East Kentwood will be very strong this year, as well. They return 15 guys from last year.”

Grand Haven kicks off their season Thursday at home against Holland Christian, with the first race scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

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