Grand Haven Tribune: Next level

Next level

Duncan MacLean • Feb 4, 2019 at 12:15 AM

The pedigree of West Michigan swimming is well established, particularly in the Tri-Cities area.

The Grand Haven and Spring Lake boys and girls teams have each posted some of their best finishes in history in recent years, claiming school records and state titles along the way.

The prep success has bred a strong local presence at the next level, particularly in the nearby Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Conference — the oldest athletic conference in the nation.

Buccaneers, Lakers and Crusaders hold roster spots at all six MIAA swimming schools. Spring Lake dominates with six former Lakers competing this season with Meg Peel and Keon Rick at Hope College, Drew Fogel at Albion College, Grant Stille at Kalamazoo College and Will and Allison Brown at Alma College.

Additionally, Grand Haven’s Kolton Epplett competes for Olivet College, while Muskegon Catholic Central’s Kara Komarek swims at Calvin College and Mona Shores graduate Mackenzie Ralston swims for Hope.

All six teams have reached the final phase of their seasons, as the all-important league championship meet looms at the end of the month.

Peel headlines the group as a sophomore for the Flying Dutch. The 2017 Spring Lake graduate took home MIAA titles in the 100- and 200-yard backstrokes last year with times of 56.54 seconds and 2:00.77, before appearing at the NCAA Division III Championships.

So far this season, Peel holds the fastest time in the conference in the 500 freestyle, clocking in at 5:04.79 at Hope’s midseason invitational, as well as the second-fastest 200 backstroke at 2:05.97, the third-fastest 100 back at 56.94, the fourth-fastest 200 IM at 2:12.81 and fifth-fastest 200 butterfly at 2:11.68.

Peel’s 100 backstroke time has her on track for another appearance at Nationals, as it sits 21st in Division 3 and under the B-cut selection time.

Rick and Ralston have performed well alongside Peel at Hope. Rick serves as a regular member of the Flying Dutchmen’s A relay teams in his junior season, posting season-best times of 22.64 in the 50 freestyle, 50.28 in the 100 freestyle and 56.82 in the 100 butterfly. Ralston serves the Dutch as a stroke specialist, posting season-bests of 2:21.73 in the 200 IM and 2:32.07 in the 200 butterfly as a sophomore.

Fogel has made the most of his freshman season with the Britons of Albion, rapidly rising to become one of the league’s top young swimmers. The 2018 Spring Lake graduate holds the third-fastest 500 freestyle time at 4:42.17, the second-fastest 200 butterfly time of 1:56.40 and the ninth-fastest 100 butterfly at 52.66. All three season-bests came at the Wabash Invitational.

Fogel’s former classmate, Will Brown, took his talents to Alma after the pair helped the Lakers to their best finish in school history as seniors in 2018.

Brown also wasted no time stepping into a leadership position with the Scots. The freshman holds Alma’s fastest time this season in the 100 breaststroke at 1:04.85 as well as the 200 breaststroke at 2:26.58 as a freshman.

The Brown family line runs strong at Alma, as Allison Brown continues to lead the Scots in her sophomore season with the team's top times in the 100 backstroke at 1:01.50 and the 200 backstroke at 2:14.00.

Stille represents local swimmers in Kalamazoo as one of the Hornets’ top sprinters heading into the championship meet. His 50 freestyle time of 21.21 sits fifth in the league and first among Kalamazoo swimmers, while his 100 freestyle time of 48.96 sits fifth at Kalamazoo.

Komarek represents the eldest of the local swimmers gracing the MIAA as she navigates her senior season at Calvin. The former Crusader specializes in the breaststroke, clocking season-best times of 1:11.44 in the 100 and 2:39.56 in the 200, while also coming in at 2:20.98 for the 200 IM.

Finally, the lone Buc preparing for the coming MIAA championship meet is Kolton Epplett as he trudges through his sophomore year at Olivet. Epplett currently holds the Comets’ third-best 1000 freestyle time at 11:07.90 as well as their third-fastest 100 butterfly at 1:02.56 and third-fastest 200 butterfly time at 2:26.32.

All nine swimmers are looking ahead to the conference championship meet coming Feb. 20-23, but most must finish off one final conference duel before they get there.

Hope will face off with Calvin on Saturday at the Holland Aquatic Center, while Albion will visit Olivet.

The league championship meet will be held at the Holland Aquatic Center, hosted by Hope.

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