Boy’s swimming State meet

Boy's swimming State meet

Caroline Sisson

Soph. Derek Maas approaches the black West Ottawa vans slowly. He is headed to his second Division One swim and dive State meet, but this one will be different than the first. Last year, the meet was held at the Holland Aquatic Center which meant that the team, or lack thereof, really didn’t spend much time together. They slept at home and drove themselves to the meet. This year, however, the meet was a whole different ball game for those who haven’t been to a State meet at all or just to the one at Holland. The State meet was held at Oakland University in Rochester. This time, the boys stayed in hotel rooms with a teammate and spent almost every waking hour with the team.

  The boys left the school at 2:30 on Thursday afternoon to ensure that they would make it to Rochester at a reasonable time. Before they left, the boys practiced at the south pool during 6th hour. They completed their normal meet warm up and then left in the vans. Head Coach Steve Bowyer, Assistant Coach Sam Hoekstra, Sr. Spencer Carl, Sr. Joe Sigler, Jr. Julian Barrios, Jr. Sam Gruenler, and Jr. Ryan Langdon rode in one van while Diving Coach Josh Devries, Soph. Sam Smith, Soph. Khadin Soto, Maas, Sr. Kelby Bosma, Sr. Zach Nash, and Jr. Duncan Kelley rode in the other.

  The rides up were not rowdy but not silent, and the boys made some great memories while they hung out with friends for three hours. “Sam Gruenler was just taking all these IQ tests, I really don’t know what was going on. I was just blessed to be in the same car as THE Spencer Carl,” said Sr. Joe Sigler. Barrios played League of Legends the whole ride while Langdon watched him. “Verizon has unlimited (data) and Julian has Verizon,” Langdon said, “that means I got to watch him play the whole car ride.”

  The boys drove straight from the high school to Rochester, which is about two and a half hours away. Their original plan was to go straight to Olive Garden where they were supposed to have dinner. However, due to extreme wind, there were a lot of power outages in the area. They arrived at Olive Garden on Thursday night only to find that it was closed because it didn’t have power: “We got to Olive Garden and they didn’t have any power so we ended up going to Panera Bread,” Bowyer said. “Panera isn’t the best swimmer food but it was just a bump in the road. Langdon was pretty disappointed because Panera Bread only has two pasta dishes and pasta is what swimmers customarily eat before swim meets: “I was kinda mad but there was nothing we could do about it. It wasn’t the best way to start off the weekend. We all had to actually get two dishes at Panera because the meals are so small,” Langdon said.

   That wasn’t the only thing Langdon was mad about that night. He sadly became the victim of a revenge prank by his teammates and somehow ended up drinking a fingernail that was in his water: “That was gross. They were all laughing but it was disgusting,” Langdon said. Barrios called it one of the highlights of the meet.

  After dinner the boys went back to the hotel where Carl roomed with Sigler, Gruenler roomed with Langdon, Smith roomed with Soto, Barrios roomed with Maas, and Bosma, Kelley, and Nash roomed together. It is swimming tradition that the night before a big meet, such as the State meet, swimmers shave their bodies anywhere that they can. Divers do not shave in order to keep their feel for the air. This is supposed to help remove dead skin and hair and eliminate drag to help swimmers swim faster: “We shave to not only get all of the hair off our bodies but also to get all of the dead skin off. This eliminates drag which makes us swim faster and we feel faster in the water,” Sigler said.

  The boys woke up at 7:00 on Friday morning to get ready for the meet. They had breakfast at the hotel and then made the quick drive over to the pool early to make sure they got a good spot on the pool deck: “We had to get there really early to get a spot,” Langdon said, “we got a good one for prelims which was great.”

  As it is at many swim meets, the warm up areas were incredibly crowded and the boys had to fight in order to get a warm up in. They all felt very good going into the first day as they were all tapered, shaved, and ready to go.

  The energy at prelims, as it always is at State meets, was electric. The order of events for every high school swim meet is as follows:

200 Medley Relay, 200 Freestyle, 200 Individual Medley, 50 Freestyle, Diving, 100 Butterfly, 100 Freestyle, 500 Freestyle, 200 Freestyle Relay, 100 Backstroke, 100 Breaststroke, and the 400 Freestyle Relay.

  At this meet, the following were participants in each event: 200 Medley Relay- Maas, Barrios, Langdon, Soto, 200 Freestyle- Barrios, Carl, Gruenler, 200 Individual Medley- Maas, 50 Freestyle- Smith, Soto, Sigler, Diving- Nash, Kelley, Bosma, 100 Butterfly- Langdon, 100 Freestyle- Smith, Soto, 500 Freestyle- Carl, Gruenler, 200 Freestyle Relay- Smith, Sigler, Barrios, Carl, 100 Backstroke- Maas, 100 Breaststroke- Barrios, and the 400 Freestyle Relay- Carl, Soto, Maas, and Smith.

  The first event, the 200 Medley Relay, is always the most exciting. Swimmers train for four or more months to lead up to that exact moment- the first event of the meet: “The first event is the 200 Medley Relay, and since it’s a relay it’s even more hyped up,” Carl said. This is the most exciting because it is the first time that most swimmers will be diving in the water fully tapered.

  The boys placed 6th in the preliminaries in the 200 Medley Relay dropping .20 seconds. Though it wasn’t the time or the place they wanted, they were prepared to swim their hardest for the rest of the meet and try to improve the next day.

  In the next event, the 200 freestyle, the team would have two swimmers: Barrios and Carl. Carl, the top seed in the event, was expected to easily qualify for the finals. Nonetheless, he still had to give it his all in the morning. Barrios went into the event seeded 11th but fell just short of the A final with a ninth-place finish. This means that he would still be able to score points but would not be able to move into the top eight.

  The 200 Individual Medley is considered one of Maas’ best events and it showed in his fourth place preliminary finish in the event. Maas was the only sophomore to qualify for the A final for the event.

  In the next event, the 50 Freestyle, WO had 3 swimmers: Soto, Sigler, and Smith. The 50 is a very simple race with a very difficult execution. In order to be skilled at this event, one must have almost perfect reaction time, under waters, and turns as the race is so short. Because it is so short, it is not uncommon that swimmers tie exactly: down to the one-hundredth of a second. Soto finished 18th which meant he was the second alternate, Sigler finished 15th which meant he was in the “B” final, and Smith tied for eighth place meaning he would have to do a swim-off to determine whether he would be in the “A” or “B” final. This took place later in the preliminary session, and if Smith won he would have a spot in the “A” final. Sigler was ecstatic to make his first ever individual final: “It was a culmination of all the hard work I had put in, it felt good to contribute to the team,” Sigler said.

  After a short break where diving would normally be, Langdon swam the 100 Butterfly. He didn’t go his best time and did not make it back to the finals.

  Soto and Smith also swam in the 100 Freestyle. Smith finished seventh which guaranteed him a spot in the “A” final, and Soto gained some time and did not make it back to finals.

  The next event, the 500 Freestyle, was sure to be a blowout for the Panthers. Carl went into the event seeded second but the team knew that he would be able to drop time and most likely pull out a win in both the prelims and finals: “Spencer was basically a guaranteed win in the 200 and 500,” Bowyer said, “we were all expecting that.” Carl surged to a first-place seed in the “A” final and Gruenler, who also swam the event, came in 20th.

  Carl had a quick turnaround for the 200 Freestyle Relay which immediately followed the 500. He teamed up with Smith, Sigler, and Barrios to finish third in the prelims.

 In the third to last event, the 100 Backstroke, Maas swam to a second place prelims finish. In this event as well as the 200 Individual Medley he was the only sophomore in the “A” final.

  The second to last event was the 100 Breastroke and Barrios was the only WO swimmer competing: “I was really excited for my prelims race; I really wanted to win,” Barrios said. He finished sixth which put him in the “A” final and a good position to move up in places the next day.

  In the final event of the prelims, the 400 Freestyle Relay, Carl teamed up with Soto, Maas, and Smith to race to a second place finish; only two one-hundredths of a second behind Zeeland.

  After a short break, it was time for Smith’s swim-off for a place in the “A” final of the 50 Freestyle. Swim-offs are one of the most nerve-wracking parts of swimming as one swims against only the person they tied. This means that there are normally only two people swimming and everyone else is watching. At a State meet, the swim-off is even more stressful because one is competing for a spot that could essentially influence the team’s overall finish. In this case, Smith went into the swim-off a little tired but very confident that he could come out on top. He fell just a little short, however; 12 one-hundredths of a second short.  This meant that he would be the top seed in the “B” final. “My swim-off was good; I wasn’t too mad because I had to swim both relays as well, and the other guy was a senior and we both dropped time,” Smith said. His teammates were glad that he made it back to the finals at all but they wanted him to be in the “A”: “Sam’s swim-off was such a bummer. Swim-offs are always so much fun because they are one on one and everyone is watching. We were really hoping he could be top eight,” Carl said.

  The swimming session ended and the boys returned to their hotel where they relaxed. Back at the pool, the divers were getting ready to take the stage. Nash and Bosma had the chance to put cherries on top of their diving careers and Kelley had the chance to make an impression at his first State meet. Though it was impressive enough that they had all made it to the meet, the boys were hungry for more: “Three divers made it to the State meet this year which is a West Ottawa record,” Bosma said.

  Unfortunately, the boys did not do as well as they had hoped. Kelley placed 34th, Nash placed 32nd, and Bosma placed 20th which qualified him for the semifinals. Bosma competed in the semifinals and again place 20th just missing the finals: “I placed 20th which was okay. I could have done better but I’m okay with it. I had a great time and the meet was fun; I made a lot of memories. At the meet, the divers as a whole did awful. We were just excited to make it to State. The highlight of the meet was just hanging out with everyone and watching high-quality swimming and diving,” Bosma said. The experience is often the best part of being at a high-level meet; not just the scores or the times. In addition to the experience, Bosma added that he really enjoyed the meet because: “The food was really good.”

   Back at the hotel, the swimmer boys were relaxing and preparing for the meet the next day. They ate take out Macaroni Grill for dinner in the hotel lobby which was simple and made it easy for the boys to make sure they were getting enough rest: “Normally we go out to eat the night before finals, but during girls season we ordered in for the last night and they all really enjoyed it so I decided to do it again for the boys,” Bowyer said. “That way everyone and everything were at the hotel so nobody was stressing about getting back to the hotel at a certain time to shave or pack their bags.”

  After dinner, the boys hung out and took ice baths: “Friday night we ate at the hotel. Then I took an ice bath to help my muscles recover. Then it was early to bed and focusing on the next day,” Carl said. Many swimmers take ice baths, especially at large meets, to ensure that they are fully recovered for the next day. Active.com says that: “The ice bath is thought to constrict blood vessels, flush waste products and reduce swelling and tissue breakdown.” Because of this, ice baths are very common among swimmers for whom it is essential that the body is in its best shape to race.

  While Carl was taking an ice bath, just down the hall Langdon was listening to his roommate Gruenler fret about something other than swimming.

  It is a WO swimming tradition that the day after a State meet the team goes to Wendy’s. Everyone has to eat a Baconator because it is a strict tradition. “We’ve always done this, boys and girls, and we always will,” Bowyer said. Gruenler is a vegetarian and has been one for years, so naturally he was a little stressed about having to eat a bacon cheeseburger the next day: “Sam kept on asking me what it would taste like; he was definitely a little stressed,” Langdon said. “I haven’t had meat in so long I was just a little worried,” Gruenler said.

  Nevertheless, all the boys fell asleep at some point and woke up the next morning to do it all over again.

  They met in the lobby for breakfast where Langdon and Smith had some trouble getting food: “the guy making the waffles was not doing too great of a job,” Smith said, “Ryan and I were standing around forever. Eventually, they all got their breakfast and headed back to the pool for the finals.

  Finals of the State meet are always incredibly intense. The stands are packed, the pool deck is beyond crowded, and the atmosphere is electric. Though swimming is not considered an exciting sport to spectate, this event would be an exception.

  The first race of the meet was the 200 medley relay which went off without a hitch. The boys donned their black caps and dark goggles and raced to a seventh place finish earning them all All-State honors. Maas, Barrios, Langdon, and Soto were happy with their finish but also felt that they could have swum faster if they had not suffered setbacks earlier in the season: “We were all really sick at some point within the last month,” Langdon said, “I feel like that is one of the main reasons we didn’t go as fast as we could have.”

  The 200 freestyle also went well for the Panthers: Carl, as expected, won the race handily, and Barrios came in 12th. Carl was pleased with the outcome of the race, but not so much with his time. However, the duo scored plenty of points for WO to lead them into the next event.

  Maas was the only swimmer in the 200 individual medley and he represented his team well: he finished in seventh place which put the team in a good position for the 50 freestyles.

  Because Smith lost his swim-off, he was the ninth seed or the top seed in the “B” final. Sigler was the 15th seed and the boys sprinted to 13th and 16th, respectively. Smith was a little disappointed with the outcome: “I was disappointed, but I have two more years after this to do better,” Smith said. For Sigler, making it into the top 16 was just the cherry on top of his swimming career.

  The team had no divers competing in the diving finals so they relaxed while diving took place. After the diving, the boys sat through the 100 butterfly as well as they had no finals swimmers and then prepared to cheer for the 100 freestyle.

  Smith was the only swimmer for the Panthers in the 100 freestyle and he swam to seventh place: the same place he was in after prelims. Though he added some time from the prelims, Smith was happy to be in a position where he could score points for his team.

  The next event, the 500 freestyle, was a race that the entire team believed Carl would win. And he did. Carl dropped almost 11 seconds from his seed time to win the event in 4:26.89. He beat the second place finisher by 7.20 seconds: a difference that is almost unheard of at such a high level of swimming. Again, Carl was pleased that he won but not entirely pleased with his times: “This year, winning my events was just a great way to cap off another great season. I wasn’t very happy with my times, but it was nice to finish on top,” Carl said.

  The boys appreciated Carl’s contribution to the team but had to laugh when he kept doing Louisville hand gestures on the podium. Carl is committed to swim at the University of Louisville next year and wanted to show some school pride: “We kept on telling Spencer not to do his Louisville hand gestures but he wouldn’t stop,” Langdon said.

   After some rocky swims early in the meet, Smith, Sigler, Barrios, and Carl raced to third place in the 200 freestyle relay finishing just behind Saline and Birmingham Brother Rice. This race was a big one for the team and they were ecstatic with the third place finish: “We knew we could do well but to actually do it was really cool. This was one of our highest finishes at the meet,” Smith said.

  Immediately following, Maas took to the pool for the 100 backstroke final where he finished second. This was a phenomenal race for Maas and for the team as his points were crucial at that point in the meet.

   Barrios swam the second to last event, the 100 breaststroke, with high hopes, but he fell just short of his goal of winning. He finished sixth in a time of 58.43 which leaves him with plenty of room to improve for next year.

   In the final event of the meet, the relay team of Carl, Soto, Maas, and Smith swam to fourth place in the 400 freestyle relay. The atmosphere was electric as the meet was coming down to the relay to determine which teams would receive trophies. The boys were on their feet cheering, but with a fourth place finish they knew that the team had fallen just short of a fourth place overall trophy; six points to be exact: “That was disappointing. We all really wanted it, and I feel like if we would have swum our best we would have gotten a trophy. Fifth place is still good but to lose by six points hurts,” Langdon said.

  Bowyer agreed: “This wasn’t the finish that the boys were hoping for or that I was hoping for. There are so many what-ifs about this meet but it really comes down to the fact that we just didn’t swim our best meet. We had some great races, for sure, but we lost in some areas that we shouldn’t have and that cost us the trophy,” Bowyer said.

  In the end, though the meet didn’t go exactly as planned for the team, they were all relieved to be done with the season and head home. As promised, the boys stopped at Wendy’s for their annual Baconator, and Gruenler had his moment of truth.

  The entire table held their breath as Gruenler, a strict vegetarian, bit into his Baconator: “I had like two bites; it was kinda gross,” Gruenler said. “It was hilarious; he looked so disgusted,” Smith said.

   “We didn’t get a trophy, but in the grand scheme of things that’s not the most important. We came and raced our hearts out and that’s all that matters. This team has had a lot of adversity this year and I’m proud of them for finishing fifth even without mind-blowing swims,” Bowyer said.