|Pioneer tankers on Holland's tail at state meet
Surprising results keep third state title in a row in reach for Pioneers
Saturday, March 13, 2004
BY ROB HOFFMAN
News Sports Reporter
Will Pioneer High School's swim team win a third straight state title?
That question is very much up in the air heading into today, the second and final day of the Division 1 meet at University of Michigan's Canham Natatorium.
But Pioneer coach Denny Hill had every reason to be optimistic at the end of Friday's preliminaries -a day that saw Pioneer's 400 freestyle relay team conclude the swimming competition by unexpectedly turning in a top-seeded time.
"We swam very well," Hill said. "We think we're in the hunt."
No scores were officially kept Friday. But if the times from the preliminaries were to carry over into today, Holland would just edge out Pioneer 268-251 - the margin of a second-place finish in an individual event. Birmingham Brother Rice would be a distant third, trailing both teams by more than 100 points.
Pioneer will have 19 swimmers or relay teams competing today, while Holland will have 15. However, of those Holland competitors, 11 will be in the
finals while four will be in the consolation heats. Pioneer will have 10 finalists.
Another determining factor could be 1-meter diving, where Pioneer has two competitors in today's finals and Holland has none. Pioneer's Jon Ellis
finished Friday in third place, while teammate Alex Gauvin is in 15th place.
Pioneer, which had some of its weakest seedings in years, put itself in a position to win based on two factors. First, elite swimmers such as Sho Koba held their own. Yet, more importantly for a team where Koba was the only individual with a top-eight seed, lesser-known swimmers that were seeded as low as 45th turned in times that were fast enough to make the eight-swimmer finals.
Koba, a sophomore phenom who moved to Ann Arbor from Japan last year, swam the fastest time in the 200 freestyle and the second-fastest time in the 100 freestyle. He also swam the anchor leg for the 400 freestyle relay team that managed to hit the wall 0.22 second faster than top-seeded Holland. It was Koba's first time swimming in front of such a large crowd, a group that included a purple-faced Pioneer fan who held up a sign that said "It's Sho Time!"
"Everyone cheered," said Koba, who speaks limited English. "It was very exciting."
Of course, you could also say it was Ryan Gardner and Robert Steele time for Pioneer.
Gardner, 45th-seeded heading into the 50 freestyle, managed to crash the consolation finals - and thus clinch some unexpected points for Pioneer - by swimming the day's 10th fastest time.
Steele, a sophomore, managed to overcome a week's worth of insomnia and low seeds to reach the finals in both the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly. His time in the 200 freestyle was 3.5 seconds faster than anything he had swam all year.
"It turned out all right," said a grinning Steele.
Craig Pfister (200 freestyle, 100 breaststroke) and Wade Engers (200 freestyle) were the other Pioneer individual swimmers to qualify for the finals. All three relay teams also made the finals.
Several other local swimmers got in the finals, including two dual qualifiers: Huron's Steve Weinberg will be in the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly, while Salem's Nick Dixon will
compete in the 200 medley and 100 backstroke. Saline's Dan Warner (200 individual medley), Canton's Joe Le (100 freestyle) and South Lyon's Ryan Fulkerson (100 backstroke) also will swim in the finals.
Rob Hoffman can be reached at (734) 994-6814 or firstname.lastname@example.org