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Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills

March 19, 2014

Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills swim teams win state titles

By Christian Davis
C & G Sports Writer

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Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills swim teams win state titles
The Birmingham Brother Rice swim team celebrates March 8 after winning the Division 1 state championship. It was the Warriors’ first since 2007.

Oakland County has long been a hotbed for talented swimmers, and three local squads proved it again at the state finals March 7-8.

Birmingham Brother Rice, Birmingham Seaholm and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood all came away with state titles in their respective divisions.

Here’s a look at how each squad rose above the competition.

Division 1 at Saginaw Valley State University
For Brother Rice coach Mike Venos, the dominant showing in the state final was more than just about his current roster.

Rice dominated the 33-team field, finishing with 345 points. Livonia Stevenson was second with 202.

“It was very gratifying. Last year, we came up short. We swam great, but you kind of felt for the seniors a little bit,” Venos said, adding that a large contingency of his former players and even parents of former players from as far back as a 2004 were in the stands for the final. “It was really a great moment for the community. As a coach, that makes me more proud than just about anything — that these folks still feel a part of it, and that’s what you try to build, really.”

The coach added that he was surprised by the dominance his team showed.

“To be real honest, I was real nervous walking in,” he said. “The kids stood up. Dare I say they swam better than I thought they would, but I never thought they would swim that fast.”

Of the 12 events, Rice won four, with the 200-yard medley relay (Mark Blinstrub, Drew Grady, Gust Kouvaris and Bradford Jones), the 200 freestyle relay (Krause, Bobby Powrie, Jack Kennedy and Jones), the 400 freestyle relay (Kouvaris, Powrie, Blinstrub and Krause) and Krause in the 50 free.

This is the Warriors’ first title since 2007.

“For a long time, we’ve had a philosophy at Brother Rice that you don’t worry about winning, just focus on swimming fast. I’m not sure if year to year the boys buy into it, but this year they did,” Venos said, adding that he had 16 freshmen on the roster. “It was satisfying seeing the older kids take a leadership role and the younger kids responding.”

Division 2 at Eastern Michigan University
Seaholm had been in this position before heading to the state finals.

The Maples were expected to win — and win big — but for the last two years, despite being the top seed, Seaholm left the meet without a trophy in hand.

“That was one of the key messages that we were trying to emphasize all season long. On paper (being No. 1) doesn’t mean much. It gives you an invitation, but you have to come hungry and be prepared to have your ‘A’ game. When the time comes, you have to be ready to deliver,” coach Tom Wylie said.

The Maples did deliver in dominating fashion, winning the state title with 357.5 points. Dexter High was second in the 28-team field with 203 points.

“I think because of what happened the past couple years, we actually learned a lot, in particular from Dexter,” Wylie said. “They are always prepared and ready to fight. Finally this year, we were prepared for that, and followed their example and had the best performance, collectively, as a team that I’ve ever had in my 16 years.”

In 2011, Seaholm won the title, its first in 47 years, but Wylie said it was different because the team was the “hunter” at that point, opposed to being the “hunted” this time around.

The Maples secured enough guaranteed points in the preliminaries on March 7 that the state championship was “close to 100 percent” certain.

“Where some swimmers would have let down knowing they won, rather than do that, they wanted to do their best performance, race and compete,” Wylie said. “I was really proud of them about that, because deep down, that’s what swimming is about: testing yourself individually to see how fast you can go.”

Seaholm started the final day by breaking the division record in the 200 medley relay with the help of Evan Burke, Jack Russell, Cliff Ross and Matt Perham.

The Maples also received wins from Russell in the 200 individual medley, the 200 freestyle relay (Nathan Anderson, Mike Shaben, Perham and Enrique Hernandez), and the 400 freestyle relay (Anderson, Shaben, Nick Ross and Hernandez).

Division 3 at Holland Aquatics
Cranbrook made history in the pool, winning the first-ever boys state championship for the program.

The Cranes scored 297 points, besting Chelsea High’s 273.33 in the 35-team field.

“The guys were on cloud nine,” coach Karl Hodgson said. “They were thrilled to death, and the parents, as well. It was cool to see everyone’s reactions. It’s something that had been building the last 12 months.”

Cranbrook finished second last season by four points, mostly because of the points lost in diving. Last year, champion East Grand Rapids had three divers in the top 11. Cranbrook didn’t score a point.

It was nearly the same this time around. Chelsea had three divers finish in the top 15, including first and second. The Cranes only had one diver on their team.

“That was the hurdle that we had to overcome,” Hodgson said. “We still had our core. I thought we could swim with anybody.”

Cranbrook earned titles from the 200 medley relay (Mitch Buccalo, Giorgio DelGrosso, Andrew Guan and Frankie Misra) and Buccalo in the 200 individual medley.

The coach noted that it was this team’s dedication that made it special.

“I’ve been coaching a long time, close to 30 years, and I’ve never coached a team that was so devoted or committed to not only personal goals, but also the team. All year, they knew what the goal was, and every day they came to practice to achieve that goal.”

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Christian Davis at cdavis@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1062. Twitter Follow Christian on Twitter.