Trojan Swimming and Diving Team Reflects on 2nd-Place CAAC Blue Finish
Prior to the Capital Area Activities Conference (CAAC) Blue Division championship meet for boys’ swimming and diving in mid-March, East Lansing Head Coach Madi Zink knew her team would likely be in close contention with rival Okemos for second place by the end of the day.
After finishing third in the division last year and despite losing a crop of great seniors, Zink understood that this year’s team had potential to be at least as good. Having lost only three times in the regular season this year — to DeWitt, Okemos (both in-conference) and Williamston — Zink was confident the Trojans would place at least third.
Because of Covid-19, the meet couldn’t be held with all of the teams at one pool, as it usually would be. For the 2021 championship meet, the teams were split up and spread around the Lansing area. East Lansing and DeWitt swam at East Lansing High School, Okemos at Okemos High School, Holt and Grand Ledge at Holt High School, and St. Johns and Haslett at St. Johns High School.
With three days’ worth of events involving seven teams taking place at four locations, the results took slightly longer to aggregate. By the time the announcer came on the speaker at the ELHS pool to announce the Trojans finished second, most of the swimmers and divers were on the pool deck, drying off and packing up. They knew it was close with Okemos heading into the third day, and when they finally heard they’d eked past them for second place, they celebrated accordingly.
“All I remember is that the entire team started like jumping and yelling really loud,” junior swimmer Maks Meecher said.
And while the Trojans’ celebration was slightly muted by the DeWitt Panthers celebrating their championship, too, the satisfaction of beating Okemos for second place remained.
“We lost to them during the regular season,” Zink said about Okemos, “and then beat them at the championship meet. It was nice to come back and to be able to do that.”
East Lansing’s second-place CAAC Blue finish — the Trojans’ best result in the conference in at least a decade, Zink said — was the capper to a season that was going to be memorable regardless. The shortened schedule and modified practices due to Covid-19 made this last year unlike any other. But finishing the year by topping a rival to take a rare second place in the conference and ultimately sending two athletes to states sets the 2020-21 season apart from most others, anyways.
“To get through the season was tough and all the stuff we had to deal with, and go through and just, it was — it just made it a lot better,” said senior swimmer Josh Bergdolt, one of the two competitors at states for the Trojans.
In normal years, everybody practices together in the morning before school. With Covid capacity restrictions, that wouldn’t be possible this year. East Lansing split practices up, between morning and afternoon, and each time slot had an assigned group of swimmers and divers for that period.
There was at least one added benefit of this: morning practices that usually required swimmers and divers to be at the pool around 7 a.m. were several hours later, due to East Lansing’s virtual school starting later.
And without much access to pools outside of team practices, Zink worried about how the newer swimmers would acclimate.
“We were a little more hesitant about the younger kids,” Zink said. “We knew the older kids had been swimming on their own to an extent, but we knew those younger ones hadn’t.”
But even for some of the upperclassmen, getting back in the pool after more time off from swimming than usual was still a difficult adjustment, at first.
Meecher remembered after the first practice back, his arms were hurting. That hadn’t happened before. His times were slow at first, too. But quite quickly — faster than in a normal year, even — Meecher noticed his times dropping.
“[It’s normally] like a linear kind of curve and this one was definitely exponential,” Meecher said about the improvements to his times in practice this season.
When it came to the CAAC Blue meet from March 11-13, Zink was confident her team would be near the top by virtue of competitive upperclassmen, like Meecher and Bergdolt. It was a matter of slotting the other swimmers and divers into the right events in order to maximize their points, which the Trojans needed to get past Okemos.
Even still, the Trojans would be relying on some unproven faces to score some needed points.
“We kind of tried to strategically reason our way through what events we put kids in,” Zink said. “And once we got the event list, saw who the other teams were swimming, that’s when we kind of realized — we were like, ‘OK, this is really possible.’”
Ultimately, the Trojans edged out Okemos for second by a 42-point margin, 353.5 to 311.5 — a relatively close finish at an event where DeWitt won with 504 points and, in total, 2,031 were awarded among the seven teams.
In three relay events (all distances in yards) — the 200 medley, 200 freestyle, and 400 freestyle — the Trojans placed second, second, and third, respectively, with their top relay teams. Those three top-3 finishes netted the Trojans exactly 100 points — 34 points for each second place, and 32 for third.
The only individual champion was Bergdolt, who won the 50 freestyle. Bergdolt also took home a high finish and big points in the 100 freestyle by coming in second. He added 37 points on his own (20 for the win, 17 for second).
A bevy of other individual swimmers all tallied notable points for East Lansing.
Juniors Hugh Hankenson (30), Kai Spicer (30), Esteban Sanchez Sink (16.5), Meecher (12), and David Benda (7) all contributed to East Lansing’s tally with a combined 95.5 points.
A contingent of sophomores also added points, with Drew Potter (31), Jack Crotteau (29), Johnny Swords (20), Shea Rudy (13), and Gunnar Gresens (3) scoring 96 more points.
And two freshman swimmers also nabbed three points between them: Henry Menzies (2) and John Bellon (1).
On top of the swimmers, two divers — freshman JJ Van Dyke (15) and senior Ethan Kauffman (7) — scored 22 points combined in one meter diving.
“We kinda worked out perfectly,” Zink said. “And we had a lot of freshmen and sophomores — really the freshmen and sophomores are definitely what won it for us. Our junior and senior guys did exactly what they were supposed to do.”
“It was really exciting to see that,” Bergdolt, the senior, said of the whole team contributing to the result. “And I think that’s the best finish that I’ve had throughout my high school career at East Lansing.”
And while the strong district finish was the end of the line for the team, two athletes moved on to states: Bergdolt and Van Dyke. Neither did exceptionally at the state meet.
Bergdolt, when talking about it, highlighted winning the 50 freestyle and placing second in the 100 freestyle at the CAAC Blue meet. Van Dyke was one of only a handful of freshman divers competing at the state level.
“That was cool, to be a part of that,” Van Dyke said.
Since finishing third in the CAAC Blue last year, the Trojans watched a group of seniors graduate while East Lansing tried as best it could to navigate a global pandemic, hoping to have a chance to get back to the championship meet with another shot at a podium finish.
And the Trojans did just that – certainly a season worth remembering.