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Culmination station

Duncan MacLean • Mar 6, 2019 at 12:15 AM

Improvement in the pool is as deliberate as progress comes. Yards traveled, weights lifted and reps gained translate into lower times. There is no workaround.

Over the last four seasons, the Spring Lake boys swim and dive team has redefined its legacy, cementing itself as one of the premier programs in Division 3.

With four seniors qualified individually for the state championship meet this season, the Lakers are hoping to improve once again, capping off an illustrious four years for this year’s leaders. From a 13th-place finish as freshmen to a near completely rewritten record board as seniors, their journey proves no goal is unattainable with enough determination.

Just one of the four made the 2016 state roster, as Cam Peel finished in the consolation finals of the 200 IM (2:01.28) and 200 medley relay as the backstroke leg (1:40.43). Both freestyle relays cracked the top eight, far from their blistering times of late. The 200 free relay finished sixth at 1:28.55, while the 400 finished seventh at 3:16.89. Peel led off both events, splitting 22.40 and 48.89.

The Class of 2019 then witnessed the Lakers’ highest finish ever, as they played a role in Spring Lake’s fifth-place finish in 2017.

Peel stepped into his leadership role in his second state meet, finding a niche he would later dominate in the sprint freestyle events. A sixth-place finish in the 50 freestyle (21.47), and a bronze medal in the 100 freestyle (46.99), combined with three top-four finishes by the Spring Lake relay teams featuring stellar performances from freshmen Joey Wachter and K.J. Losee, shot Spring Lake into the upper tier of Division 3 swimming.

The trio of underclassmen joined with Will Brown to take fourth in the 200 medley at 1:36.58, while Charlie Slajus rounded out a third-place finish in the 400 free relay at 3:10.35, with Peel splitting a 46.03 as the anchor leg.

The 2018 state meet saw the rest of the class join Peel as they, their now super sophomores Losee and Wachter, and senior Drew Fogel lit up the meet for a third-place finish with just seven qualified swimmers.

Sella joined the fray as a member of the 200 freestyle relay, leading off the 13th-place effort in 23.00. Geschiere and Schock just missed qualifying individually but went along as alternates, intent on supporting their teammates up close and personal from the deck.

Peel treated the 2018 meet as his personal coming-out party, briefly breaking the state record for the 100 freestyle during his state-championship swim (45.96), finishing third overall in a loaded 50 freestyle field (20.98) and clocking in as one of two swimmers in the state that year to split sub-44 seconds on the 400 freestyle relay.

The consistent improvement continued this season, as Geschiere and Schock both earned individual qualifications for the first time.

“It is a great feeling,” Geschiere said. “I feel great right now. I can’t wait to compete Friday. It has been really nice growing up with this team. We have had so many good swimmers come in and evolve.

“This year, I think we put a lot more work into practice. It’s senior year, so it is your last opportunity to do that.

“We focused up a ton,” Schock said. “We focused more on our lifting, our swimming. It’s been really cool to watch so many swimmers, including us, grow both physically and as people.”

Sella earned a permanent spot on the Lakers’ quickest relays as a junior, emerging as a stellar sprinter in his own right alongside Peel, Losee and Wachter. The shift in responsibility is not lost on the senior.

“I think the biggest difference for me is that sense of leadership you get when it is your spot,” he said. “Not being someone who is looking up to the relay and happy to be there, but being a role model. It is insane, really, seeing all the growth over our years, going from looking up to the guys on the relay to being one.”

For his part, Peel only widened his margins of victory, even stretching his dominance into the long course scene, traveling to California for the junior national championships over the summer.

Despite the far-flung success among the nation’s elite, the Michigan state meet still churns the nerves for the state’s No. 3-ranked recruit. With impressive improvement comes immense expectation and the possibility of a newly inspired challenger.

“I would say the state meet almost gets me more nervous than any other meet,” the University of Michigan commit said. “I feel like there is something expected from me, from us. And, at state, there is always somebody that pops up out of nowhere and goes super fast. It is a super fun meet. It’s our last one, that is hard to believe.”

The secret to the Lakers’ unstoppable rise is simple.

“Those four guys have been great leaders during this run,” said Spring Lake head coach Rob Peel. “They know that there is no way around putting in the hard work, and they have led by example from that perspective. They enjoy going to big meets and competing their best.

“You see them finish a race and it means something to them. They have some emotion invested in it because of all the hard work they put in and that rubs off on the younger guys.”

A season full of healthy racing has the Lakers in a good spot heading into the final meet of the year with eight qualifiers: Losee, Collin Schock, Brown, Sella, Evan Schock, Wachter, Geschiere and Peel.

At last month’s O-K Greater Grand Rapids Swim Conference championship meet, the Lakers came in under many of their 2018 state-finals times, mostly without a taper.

Wachter, Sella, Losee and Peel turned in a 1:25.27 in the 200 freestyle relay for their gold-medal finish, while Brown swapped in for the 400 freestyle relay to win the event by 7.5 seconds at 3:07.52.

For reference, the Division 3 state records in each event stand at 1:23.02 and 3:04.52, both within striking distance.

Peel has even bigger targets in his sights, as he eyes a few All-Class records. Henry Schutte, Peel’s classmate and conference rival hailing from Forest Hills Central, holds the Michigan All-Time 50-freestyle record at 20.01, while former Texas Longhorn Clay Youngquist holds the 100 freestyle record at 43.73.

In December 2018, at his last tapered meet, Peel clocked in at 20.06 and 44.24.

Additionally, either Peel, Losee or Wachter holds the fastest time in Division 3 in five events heading into the big dance, as well as a slew of top-five times.

That is marketable improvement.

“It’s been a crazy four years,” Sella said. “Seeing more and more growth gained each year to the point we are now — it has been a wild, awesome ride.”

The Class of 2019’s last rodeo kicks off Friday at Oakland University with preliminary swims beginning at 12 p.m.

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