By Bethany Williston / For WLAA
Pioneer hosted the 2020 Southeastern Conference (SEC) Red Division Men’s Swim and Dive Championships. The preliminaries were Friday, Feb. 28 and the finals were Saturday, Feb. 29. The SEC division includes Ann Arbor Huron, Ann Arbor Pioneer, Ann Arbor Skyline, Monroe High School, Saline High School, and Temperance-Bedford High School.
The swimming was fast with many new State cuts and an overwhelming number of swimmers achieving personal best times. The divers, too, exceeded their highest scores of the season.
With rankings placing Pioneer anywhere from third to fifth in the state, the pressure was on the team to perform well at the conference meet. Pioneer didn’t disappoint. Finishing the weekend as Conference Champions, Pioneer earned a total of 602 points, way ahead of second place Saline with 407 points and third place Skyline with 397 points.
Throughout the season, Pioneer’s strength has come from five places: their depth across classes: 2 seniors, 6 juniors, 6 sophomores, and 1 freshman swimmer have all qualified for the State Championship, their depth within events, especially 200 Free, 500 Free, 100 Breaststroke, and 200 IM, the star power of swimmer Matthew Segal and diver Cole Tremewan, the outstanding coaching team led by Stef Kerska, a former University of Michigan swimmer and coach and current team manager for Team USA, and finally the strong team chemistry seen in training and at meets.
Depth across classes
Pioneer not only ended the day with the win, they started finals by making history. Pioneer’s 200 Medley A-Relay team consisted of Jack Wilkening, Vaughn Hajra, Robert Yang, and Matthew Segal. Their time of 1:34.54 broke the varsity and pool records and missed the SEC record by one-one hundredth of a second. Hajra is a senior and captain, Segal a junior, and Wilkening and Yang are both sophomores.
The Pioneer B-Relay finished in 9th place, ahead of all the other B-relays, with Caleb Rice, Sammy Fonte, Koa Williams, and Jack Shemke.
Depth within events
The second event of the meet was the 200 Free where the Pioneers scored 60 out of their 602 total points. Teo Jaworski, Cam Williston, Yang, and Gabe Labadie finished in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th, respectively. Because of an SEC rule that only allows four swimmers from any one team to qualify for the top 16 spots (A-final and B-final), the fifth fastest swimmer in prelims, Pioneer freshman Alec Lipham, was relegated to the C-final heat. Even though his swim wouldn’t contribute any points for the team, he powered through to win his heat by 6.48 seconds.
In the 500 Free, Lipham was one of the top four swimmers for Pioneer. The event earned 56 points with 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th place finishes by Williston, Rice, Jaworski, and Lipham, respectively. In the C-Final, seven of the eight swimmers were from Pioneer: Mathew DeBona, Kenji Wagner, Captain Tristan Serr, Jackson Willmer, Zach Edwards, Kenyon Neal, and Porter Malcolm.
The 100 Breaststroke was another heavy points event. Hajra placed 2nd, Fonte 4th, Sung-Jae Lee 5th, and Gabe Almeida 7th, scoring a total of 58 points.
In addition to his freestyle leg of the record-breaking Medley Relay, Segal won the 200 IM and 100 Free to become a three-time Conference Champion. Following Segal in the IM were Fonte, Ryan Hume, and Almeida who were 4th, 5th, and 8th, respectively. The 100 Free swimmers who finished 6th, 7th, and 10th were Alex Farmer, Shemke, and Labadie.
For Segal’s final event, he anchored the 200 Free A-Relay to a third-place finish. The other swimmers on the relay were Hajra, Hume, and Farmer.
Showing their depth again, Pioneer’s 200 Free B-Relay was the fastest of all the schools’ B teams. It was comprised of Shemke, Fonte, Williston, and Jaworski.
Junior diver, Cole Tremewan, was the runner-up at States last year. This year he is ranked number one in the state. The 543.40 points he earned from the judges at the conference meet was over a hundred points more than second place. Third place went to Pioneer sophomore Max Rolla-Mullis. Later this week, Tremewan and Rolla-Mullis will dive at Regionals where the top twelve divers will advance to compete in the State Championships.
Outstanding coaching and team chemistry
Prior to the SECs, eleven Pioneer swimmers had already qualified for the State Championships, many of them in more than one event. Five more Pioneer swimmers made state cuts at SECs. Fonte qualified in the 200 IM and 100 Breaststroke on Friday then went on to swim even faster on Saturday. Senior and captain Koa Williams, usually a butterflier, qualified in the 50 Free. He then led off the 400 Free B-Relay and made the 100 Free time, too. Water polo State team player, Shemke, made his first swimming State team by achieving the exact qualifying time in the 100 Free. Lee finished strong in the 100 Breaststroke to make his first State team. Labadie added the 200 Free to the 100 Free state cut he already had.
In the shortest event of high school swimming, the sprinters Hajra, Williams, Gabe Sanchez-Burks, and Farmer placed 8th, 11th, 13th, and 14th in the 50 Free, respectively.
The 100 Butterfly was a strong event for the Pioneers. Williams, Yang, Justin Su, and Wagner finished 5th, 6th, 8th, and 10th, respectively.
Wilkening led the Pioneers in the 100 Backstroke finishing 2nd and followed by Hume 5th, Rice 7th, and DeBona 10th.
After over three hours of racing, the 400 Free A-Relay team of Farmer, Williston, Hume, and Yang dropped almost 10 seconds from their time on Friday to finish in 2nd place.
Yet again, the Pioneer B-Relay was the fastest of the Bs finishing in 9th place. This relay consisted of Williams with his state cut lead-off time, Sanchez-Burks, Jaworski, and Rice.
Rankings ahead of the State Championship are just a guess. What will be much more exciting will be watching the Pioneer team, rested and wearing tech suits, race hard, dive clean, and score points, lots of points, at the Division One State Championships.
Coaches from the six SEC teams each chose one swimmer from their team to receive the Sportsmanship Award. The Pioneer award went to senior Jack Bajcz.
Tuesday, March 3rd: Huron hosts the Last Chance Meet. This serves as a final chance for swimmers to qualify for the State Championship.
Thursday, March 5th: Diving Regionals at Brighton High School, the State qualifier for divers.
Friday, March 13th: Division 1 Men’s Swim & Dive State Championships preliminaries at Oakland University where all athletes who have qualified will compete. Divers will have both prelims for everyone who qualified then an additional semi-finals event for the top 20 divers.
Saturday, March 14th: Division 1 Men’s Swim & Dive State Championships Finals. The top 16 individual swimmers or divers or relays from each event on Friday compete for State titles.