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Rivalry renewed

Duncan MacLean • Jan 11, 2019 at 12:23 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — As far as anyone on the pool deck Thursday night was concerned, Grand Haven boys swim and dive had never beaten Rockford.

Ninety minutes of top-notch performances at the Grand Haven Aquatic Center changed that, as the Bucs won eight events to take down their O-K Red Conference rivals by a final score of 194.5-120.5.

“This is our first win over Rockford since I’ve been here, and I’ve been around eight or nine years,” said Grand Haven head coach Doug Thorne. “If there is a way to find out how long it was before then, I would love to know.

“Tonight, we swam as a team and with a purpose and I’m just really stoked about that. The guys were excited to have the opportunity to swim and it showed. From right off the bat, they just took off. I’m very, very pleased.”

Heading into the showdown Grand Haven knew they had a shot at their rivals and decided to put it away early.

After finishing runner-up in the 200-yard medley relay, Grand Haven came back for a 1-2 finish in the 200 freestyle, courtesy of Eli Vandenbrand in 1 minute, 48.80 seconds and Michael Macdonald in 1:49.05, whipping the Bucs back into the lead.

With the Rams on their heels, Grand Haven busted out the bug guns, firing off a 1-4 sweep of the 200 IM to take a commanding early lead. Thomas MacDonald took first in 2:10.02, followed by Collin Kelly at 2:11.27, Carter Brown at 2:12.45 and Griffin Kelly at 2:17.54, who mounted a three-second comeback on the final leg of the race to complete the sweep and send the pool deck into a frenzy.

“That 200 IM. Wow,” Thorne said. “When you go 1-4, the meet technically isn’t over, but if we can do that early, we should be able to work our way through the meet OK. I knew it was going to be a good day right there.”

Grand Haven went on to win six more events in their rout of the Rams, putting a lopsided rivalry to bed for the year.

“We pulled a lot of energy from the 200 events,” said senior Mark Wilgenburg. “To grab such a big lead early felt great, and to do it with a touch-out for fourth really pumped us up.”

“There was a lot of pressure, because we haven’t beaten them in like 20 years,” senior Griffin Kelly said. “This senior class really wanted to change that. Rockford is notorious for beating Grand Haven in both water polo and swimming, so changing that in our senior year feels really good.”

Wilgenburg used that energy from the early wins to grab two of his own. The first of came in the 50 freestyle with a time of 22.32 to keep things rolling into the diving break.

Louis Mallot led the Grand Haven divers with a second-place performance, thanks to a season-best score of 215.10.

Wilgenburg returned still hot from his splash-and-dash victory, lighting up the pool for a win in the 100 butterfly with a time of 56.25.

Vandenbrand kept the streak going between the lanelines with a gutsy performance in the 100 freestyle, surging ahead in the back half of the race for a win in 49.19.

After a runner-up finish in the 200 freestyle to his teammate, Michael MacDonald was apparently hungry for a win. The sophomore ate well in the 500 freestyle, turning in a 5:07.65 for a 13-second victory.

The fun continued in the sprint relay as Grand Haven gambled to lock up their meet victory. Splitting their fastest sprinters between the A and B 200 freestyle relay teams opened up the chance for huge Rockford point swing, but the wager paid off as the B team of Wilgenburg, Jackson Hamm, Jack Timmer and Nick Wilson took first place in 1:33.09, followed by the A team of Thomas MacDonald, Collin Kelly, Vandenbrand and Michael MacDonald in second place at 1:33.41.

Rockford managed to pick up wins in the final two individual events with Carter Brown picking up second place in the 100 backstroke at 56.44 and Thomas MacDonald finishing runner-up in the 100 breaststroke at 1:06.00.

Timmer, Wilson, Michael MacDonald and Vandenbrand ended things on a high note with a win in the 400 freestyle relay, clocking in at 3:31.03

The overwhelming speed from Grand Haven was well earned, as they’ve been hard at work since their last meet on Dec. 20.

“This was our first meet in three weeks and all I’ve done is pound on them since,” Thorne said. “We had a great Christmas break. The guys came in and trained hard. Tonight showed that when you work hard, good things happen.”

For swimmers across the country, Christmas break means tough sledding. Two-a-day practices make for chlorine burn and damaged hair, while team dinners and brutal sets bring teammates closer together. In the end, all the work is usually worth it.

“It’s been awful,” Wilgenburg said of recent training. “But, it feels good now.”

“It was a lot of hard work, but it really does pay off in meets like this where we are just popping off in every event,” Kelly said. “It shows that we are a hard-working team who wants to make a difference this year.”

“A win like this means everything, really,” Wilgenburg said. “It makes everyone feel better, gets everyone confident. It really makes you ready for the next meet right away.”

With momentum restored, the Bucs will return to the pool energized for another week of training before hosting an even greater challenge as Hudsonville comes to town Jan. 17.

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