|Pioneer's strong swims in individual events made it close
Sunday, March 14, 2004
BY ROB HOFFMAN
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
Out of the corner of his eye, Craig Pfister could see them. The members of the Holland swim team. Their coaches. All of them. Swimming and laughing it up in the University of Michigan pool. Taking a dunk to celebrate the school's first-ever swimming title. It was a ritual that Pfister had grown used to being a part of, not watching from the semi-moist deck. As one of the co-captains of the Pioneer swim team, it is Pfister's job to act like a dispassionate leader, not a disappointed teen-ager. But the twinge of regret behind his eyes was noticeable as he spoke, moments after the closest and most exciting state meet in years had ended. "They earned it," he said. "They were the No. 1 team all season. And they were fast." Yes, they were. But so was Pioneer. Which made a runner-up finish, the first for the two-time defending champions since 2001, that much harder for Pioneer to swallow. But it shouldn't. The fact is, Pioneer had a lot of ground to make up, starting at the beginning of the year and continuing through this weekend. Pfister was the only returnee who had finished in the top eight of an individual event before. They lost a dual meet in January to this same Holland team. And entering the weekend, only a few swimmers had managed to swim top 20 times. And yet... First, there was the Sho Koba factor. On Saturday, the sophomore from Japan would go on to win the 200 free and place second in the 100 free. Beyond that, in typical Pioneer fashion, there was marked improvement among the lesser known swimmers on the team at the U-M pool. Ryan Gardner, seeded 45th entering the meet, won the consolation final in the 50 free. Kevan Whelan wound up touching the wall in third for his 500 free final. And bulky football player Mike Bolling surprised nearly everyone by moving up from the 16th-seed in the 100 back to fourth in his consolation final.
The points were adding up. And the meet was close.
How close? In the 200 freestyle relay, second-place Holland outtouched third-place Pioneer by a hundredth of a second - the equivalent of the width of a fingernail.
But Pioneer persevered.
By the day's final event, Pioneer knew what it had to do. A victory in the 400 free relay would clinch a third-straight title - a tie if the Dutch finished second, the outright title if Holland did any worse.
They didn't. They did better.
The Dutch swam as if the lanes in the U-M pool were made of asphalt, not chlorine. Holland's winning time was nearly 3 seconds faster than any one had turned in this season and almost a full second ahead of Pioneer's winning time in 2003.
So Pioneer will got a second-place award for its trophy case.
But here's something to keep in mind:
The first-place and second-place trophy? They are both the same size and weight.
Which is only appropriate.
Because, in this case, the runner-up was a winner too.