By Jason Wesseldyk
AUBURN HILLS—Otsego boys swim & dive coach Darryl Belton thought his star freshman Liam Smith looked uncharacteristically tight at the Division 3 state finals on Saturday, March 11.
“He doesn’t get that way very often,” Belton said. “He’s usually so calm and collected. It’s easy to forget he’s only a freshman.”
Despite his nervousness, Smith placed third in the 200-yard IM with a time of 1:54.11. Then came his performance in the 100 butterfly.
After finishing second in prelims the previous day, Smith went out a swam a time of 49.74 to outdistance runner-up James Baer of Holland by more than a second and claim the state championship.
“What can I say about Liam,” Belton said. “Seriously, I’m at a loss to describe that. Third in the IM was obviously pretty neat. And then the boy was able to set aside his nervousness and win a state championship in the 100 fly. Wow, was that something.
“When I saw his turn at the 75, I knew that race was over. Nobody was going to catch him, and I spent the last 25 yards of his swim celebrating. He deserved it and one of these days it will sink in. But right now, I’m still in a fog over it. Hopefully that doesn’t fade for a while.”
In addition to earning All-State in his two individual events by placing in the top eight, Smith also helped Otsego’s 400 freestyle relay team garner All-State accolades.
Smith, who swam the anchor leg, was joined by Ethan Moss, Seth Barck and Bryce Meyer to place eighth at 3:22.21.
“The 400 free relay making top eight and the All-State team was just the cherry on top,” Belton said. “That was very cool.”
Smith was one of two Allegan County athletes to earn All-State in three events.
Wayland senior Zachery Jenison was runner-up in the 100 breaststroke (56.8) and sixth in the 100 fly (51.79). He also teamed up with Payton Williamson, Josh Rose and Henry Oudbier to place seventh in the 200 medley relay at 1:39.73.
Two other area swimmers garnered All-State in both of their individual events: Plainwell freshman Sam Harper and Allegan senior Titus Smith.
Harper finished third in the 200 free before snagging runner-up honors in the 500 free.
Titus Smith, meanwhile, placed seventh in the 100 fly (51.96) and finished up his high school career by taking third in the 100 backstroke (52.23).
The finals concluded a unique season for Titus Smith during which he was the only member of the Allegan team.
“Titus was outstanding,” Allegan coach Carol Gephart said. “And as the only swimmer on Allegan’s team, Titus accomplished this without the support of a team. His perseverance through this adversity was impressive.
“Although his lack of team support was challenging, I believe that in the end it challenged and improved his mental toughness. Throughout the season, Titus displayed a remarkable ability to handle adversity and rise above it.”
Hamilton had three athletes secure All-State status: senior Jeremy Mathews was fourth in diving (400.0 points); Jackson Nyhof was fourth in the 100 breast (58.6); and Carsen McIntire was eighth in the 500 free (4:58.75).
Hamilton also had the top showing among local schools in the team standings, cracking the top 10 at No. 9 with 102 points.
Otsego finished just outside the top 10, placing 11th with 84 points.
“We had a great meet and I couldn’t be prouder,” Belton said. “Most every swimmer and diver made it to Saturday and that says all you need to know about the type of kids we had this year. To make it to the last day at that meet is really something and every one of the boys performed to the absolute best of their ability. That is all you can ask.”
Wayland was 13th with 76 points, followed by Plainwell in 18th with 54 points and the one-man Allegan team in 24th with 28 points.
“We were very happy with our overall team performance at the final,” Wayland coach Seth Beat said. “We went into the competition with hopes of placing higher and earning more points than we did last year, and that goal was accomplished.
“It was a bonus to have four of our seven participating athletes earn All-State for finishing seventh in the 200 medley relay. We did have goals of breaking our school records in the 200 medley relay and the 200 freestyle relay, but we fell short by just a little.”