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Uncharted waters

Duncan MacLean • Mar 11, 2019 at 12:52 AM

After 110 days of training, senior Cam Peel spent 252.63 seconds racing at the Division 3 state championship meet at Oakland University this weekend.

In that 4 minutes, 21.05 seconds, Peel, along with his relay teammates, won four state championship gold medals, set four new Division 3 state records and one All-Class state record. The accolades added up to earn Peel the Division 3 Swimmer of the Year award.

As part of the journey, Peel became the state’s first high school swimmer ever to break the 20-second mark in the 50-yard freestyle, doing so twice in the open event and four times counting his relay splits.

In total, all 600 yards of Peel’s racing were done at record pace, cementing his spot as one of the state’s all-time great athletes.

Junior K.J. Losee spent more time in the water, but traveled significantly farther, as he took home a state championship in the 200 freestyle and a runner-up finish in the 500 freestyle, individually.

Joey Wachter’s meet featured stiff competition, as he finished second to Peel in the 50 freestyle and second to Holland Christian’s Riley VanMeter in the 100 backstroke.

Spring Lake’s Big Three dominated their relay events, as well, teaming up for gold medal, state record swims in the 200 freestyle relay, along with Sam Sella, and the 400 freestyle relay, along with Charles Brown.

In the end, it all added up to a fourth-place finish overall for the Lakers, earning them a trophy to bring home and lines on every page of the state record book. Holland Christian took home the team title with 323.5 points, ahead of East Grand Rapids with 267 and Marshall in third at 198. The Redhawks passed Spring Lake in the final event. While the Lakers won a heated race for first, Marshall moved up from eighth to sixth, bumping into third place overall by just one point.

The performance exceeded expectations for head coach Rob Peel, who at the conclusion of the meet was voted by his fellow coaches as Coach of the Year, completing a litany of records, titles and accolades for the Lakers.

RESULTS

Peel kicked his meet off with the 50 freestyle, where he took top honors in 19.91, just missing out on his own All-Class record, which he set at 19.86 at the meet’s preliminary session Friday. After the bubbles settled at all three state championship meets this weekend, Peel’s two 50 freestyle swims remained the first and only times a Michigan high school swimmer has broken the 20-second barrier in the event.

The fun continued in the 100 freestyle, as Peel took the gold with a ballistic time of 43.94, setting a new Division 3 state record and finishing well ahead of the second-place time of 45.39.

Along with his success individually, Peel led the Lakers’ freestyle relays with unprecedented splits, buoyed by phenomenal swims by his teammates.

Joey Wachter (20.92), Sam Sella (22.03) and K.J. Losee (20.85) put the Lakers well ahead of the field to start off the 200 freestyle relay, giving Peel open water to play with. The lead only grew as Peel ripped off a 19.08 for his leg, bringing Spring Lake in under the Division 3 state record and just short of the All-Class record at 1:22.88.

Peel continued to drop the jaws of competitors and spectators alike at Oakland in the 400 freestyle relay, as Losee (46.56), Charles Brown (49.00) and Wachter (45.09) got mixed up in an epic race with the defending event champions from Holland Christian. Peel hit the water with some ground to make up — about a body-length behind the Maroons. An expert relay exchange made up most of the distance, while his split did the rest. Peel clocked in at 43.01, bringing the Lakers home for a state-record time of 3:03.66, beating Holland Christian by just over one second.

At the conclusion of the meet, every coach representing a team at the state meet turns in a vote for Swimmer of the Year, emphasizing record-breaking swims and points scored in both relay and individual events. Peel was an obvious choice.

The 110 days of training wasn’t the half of it for Peel, who has been hard at work since the conclusion of last year’s state meet as a year-round club swimmer. According to him, to achieve at this unprecedented level takes all the work in the world, paired with an ambitious nature.

“It’s the basics everyone talks about — hard work, dedication to being there every day,” he said of what got him to this point. “But, what I think the most important thing if you want to stand out is self-belief.

“Everyone has goals that sound crazy if you tell them to other people. My expectations were to go best times and break barriers that a lot of people didn’t think I could break, and I came close in a lot of them. To convince yourself you can do something that other people don’t think you can is what sets you apart.”

The complete body of work ties a pristine bow on a stellar high school career for Peel, exceeding even his own expectations as a finale in an arena he enjoys like few others.

“I haven’t been to college, obviously, so I imagine it is similar, but high school swimming is super close with your guys,” he said. “Having my dad as my coach isn’t going to happen at the collegiate level. There is just something about high school swimming that is super special to me. I don’t know what it is. I love the team and the competition here.”

Spring Lake head coach and Cam’s father Rob Peel enjoyed significant swimming success of his own, including an NCAA Division III national championship in the 50 freestyle and trips to the U.S Olympic Trials. Despite that, he couldn’t help but be surprised at his son’s unparalleled speed and enthusiasm for the sport they share.

“For Cam to do what he just did so far exceeds my expectations for him,” he said.

“Two years ago, he went 46.99 and got third in the 100 free and I was absolutely thrilled. It was truly awesome. Now, to be doing what he is doing is just crazy.

“He never cut any corners, his work ethic is unparalleled, and this is the result.”

BIG THREE

After all that, Peel wasn’t the only Laker to finish atop the podium.

Losee picked up a state title of his own in the 200 freestyle, clocking in at 1:39.76, well ahead of the second place time of 1:41.42. The race was close for just 50 yards, as Losee hit the second flip turn even with the rest of the leaders, before dusting them in the final six laps of the race. By the 100-yard mark, Losee led the field by at least 0.20 second. By the 150-yard mark, no one was within 1.5 seconds of him.

Losee followed his gold medal up with a silver, finishing runner-up in the 500 freestyle at 4:36.20, dropping four seconds off his prelim time and 12 seconds off his seed time. A stellar pacesetter motivated the drop, as Jonas Cantrell of Mason High School separated from the field on his way to a 4:34.45. The initial burst of speed caught Losee off guard, leaving him behind. The junior buckled down and built his speed through the race, making a run at the lead in the final 100 yards, falling just short.

The 500-yard sprint immediately preceded Losee’s leg on the 200 freestyle relay, where he put his true endurance on display with a ballistic relay split.

Wachter rounded out the Lakers’ Big Three with an iron-man performance, as all four of his swims came in the second half of the meet.

After his runner-up finish in the 50 freestyle at 20.85, Wachter returned for the lead leg of the 200 freestyle relay, then turned right around for a runner-up run through the very next event, the 100 backstroke, at 49.91. The junior then took the 100 breaststroke off to recover, before finishing off his session with the third leg of the 400 freestyle relay.

Just one Spring Lake swim at finals was locked into the consolation heat, as Collin Schock, Evan Schock, Charles Brown and Sam Sella brought the Laker 200 medley relay team to 14th place overall, with a time of 1:41.29. Friday, the relay team posted a 1:40.79 to qualify 12th for finals.

Five Lakers competed individually Friday, but couldn’t sneak into the top 16 to earn a place on Saturday. Also competing for the Lakers, but failing to qualify for finals was Brown finishing 25th in the 200 IM (2:08.15) and 30th in the 100 butterfly (55.75); Eric Geschiere finishing 30th in the 50 freestyle (22.98) and 33rd in the 100 freestyle (51.50); Collin Schock finishing 26th in the 100 backstroke (58.45); Evan Schock finishing 25th in the 100 breaststroke (1:03.34); and Sella finishing 24th in the 50 freestyle (22.67) and 31st in the 100 freestyle (50.91).

“There are so many emotions that go into a meet like this,” coach Peel said. “You just hope it all comes together. We had kids in the last swim of their high school careers and swim phenomenal.

“We only had eight kids. We knew most teams, especially the teams in front of us, were going to have a lot more than that. We said coming into the meet, ‘Let’s focus on dominating our performance.’ Not to worry about winning, or what we can’t control. We wanted to focus on dominating our own meet.

“For kids like Cam, that means state titles and records and going crazy fast. For Sam Sella, it is about getting the most out of his relay performance. Every kid knows their level of contribution of the team, and we knew it would take all eight of them to get a great result, and that’s what we got.”

To top it all off, in his third and final year as the Spring Lake head coach, Rob Peel was voted by his fellow Division 3 coaches as Coach of the Year, earning the award alongside his son as Swimmer of the Year.

“Totally shocked,” coach Peel said of the honor. “It is a total reflection of how well the kids swam.

“It has been really fun getting to know Butch (Briggs), and all these other coaches. They are so great. They all love the sport and have the best of intentions for the kids. It is fun to be on deck and around this.

“I marvel at the coaches that have done it for 30 years because it is so draining. I got into this because of Cam. To get to experience this all with him and the other boys — it means the world.”

Rob Peel will step down from the Spring Lake head coaching position this year to enjoy both Cam’s swimming career at the University of Michigan and his daughter Meg Peel’s final year swimming at Hope College.

Sharing the meet MVP awards was the icing on an emotional cake for coach Peel.

“I had to keep it together when they announced them together,” he said. “Who gets to do this? This is pretty rare.

“I knew what I was able to do in the pool. I never thought Cam would even be into swimming. It feels weird that he might feel some obligation to do it. I never wanted that. But, he found out, like I did, that he is pretty good at it. All of the sudden you find a connection to this thing and want to give it everything you’ve got. That is why I’m so proud of him, because he figured out he was good at it and said, ‘I’m going to get everything I can out of this.’

“What an awesome weekend. We had fun.”

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