The future looks bright for the Hope College men’s swimming and diving team. Not only did its student-athletes earn the team's best finish in seven years at this year’s MIAA Championships, they did it with a majority of freshmen and sophomores.
And the 2021 All-MIAA selections for the Flying Dutchmen reflect that. Six of Hope’s seven All-MIAA award winners are underclassmen.
Led by two-time all-league honorees Kamaron Wilcox and Bailey Smith, the Flying Dutchmen finished second at the league championships last Saturday, their best result since 2014. Joining Smith and Wilcox for the first time on the All-MIAA team are swimmers Ben Catton, Theo Duong, Conor East, Jack Muller, and Jake Peterson.
Wilcox repeats as the MIAA’s Most Valuable Diver after sharing the honor this season. The junior from Grand Rapids, Michigan (Forest Hills Central HS) defended his title on the 3-meter board with a winning point total of 501.25 while placing third in 1-meter diving with 445.50.
“Watching Kam continue to develop as a diver and a young man has been very rewarding for the coaching staff,” head coach Jake Taber said. “He's diligent and intentional and I love seeing the work pay off the way it has for him.
Smith can rightfully claim the honor of Hope’s best long-distance freestyler.
In taking second place in the 500-yard freestyle on Day 1 of the championships, the sophomore from Battle Creek, Michigan (Lakeview) broke a 26-year-old Hope record by clocking in at 4:29.49. The previous mark was held by Kurt Assink with a time of 4:32.06 set in 1995.
Smith's winning time of 15:40.40 in the 1,650 freestyle was a two-record getter. He easily smashed the previous Hope mark of 15:51.00 by Josh Grabijas, set in 2012, and the MIAA record of 15:42.35 by Calvin's Caleb Meindertsma, set in 2016.
Additionally, Smith finished fourth in the 200 free with a time of 1:41.48.
“We knew we had a good one in Bailey a year ago but his drive and commitment to the off-season and the gaps we faced this year are the reasons why he finished this season the way he did,” Taber said. “He's a talent and he's driven and now he's the best miler in MIAA history. I don't think that's a coincidence.”
East was the winner of the 200 butterfly in 1:49.40. The freshman from Farmington Hills, Michigan (North Farmington) edged out teammate Peterson who clocked in at 1:49.82. The two swimmers surpassed the previous MIAA and Hope records once held by Hope’s Ryan Nelis, who swam a 1:50.32 in 2009.
In his other events, East finished second in the 200 individual medley (1:52.08) and fourth in the 100 fly (49.60).
“Conor quietly goes about his business and takes in everything he's hearing. From there, he applies it all to his swims,” Taber said. “Watching him attack his races and compete at the MIAA Championships was awesome. It was exciting to see a freshman break 10+-year-old MIAA record.”
Besides that close second-place finish to East in the 200 fly, Peterson swam to first place in the 400 IM with a time of 4:04.46. The freshman from San Antonio, Texas (Churchill) also took sixth in the 200 IM in 1:54.22.
“Jake comes from a very prominent club team in San Antonio and has a high swimming IQ, Taber said. “When you combine that with the willingness to work and grind when needed, great things happen, like winning the 400 IM and swimming under the previous MIAA record in the 200 butterfly as a freshman.”
Catton placed well in a variety of strokes. The freshman from Holland, Michigan (Holland Christian) set a new Hope record during prelims in the 100 fly with a time of 48.37, breaking the mark held by Ryan Nelis of 48.48 from the 2009 season. In the finals, Catton took second in the event by touching in at 48.48.
Catton also swam to another Hope record and a second-place finish in the 100 backstroke (50.42), besting the mark of 50.45 set by Daniel Keith in 2019. Lastly, Catton was fourth in the 100 free (45.47).
“Ben's competitive nature and confidence set him apart from so many,” Taber said. “He's a driven competitor that refuses to back down, he thrives on competition. He was also willing to make some event changes this season and, as a result, now finds himself with two individual school records.”
Muller took second in the 200 breaststroke and third in the 100 breaststroke with times of 2:04.29 and 56.47, respectively. In the 200 IM, the sophomore from Queensland, Australia (Meridian State) touched in eighth with a time of 1:58.48.
“Jack is a big meet swimmer and he delivered in a big way when it mattered most this season,” Taber said. “He was able to make some nice adjustments from prelims to finals and find even more time to drop.”
Duong finished second in the 1650 free to teammate Smith with a time of 16:22.90. The sophomore from Kentwood, Michigan (East Kentwood) also was third in the 500 free in 4:42.27; and took 10th in the 400 IM, clocking a 4:18.92.
“Theo's individual event lineup is as hard as it gets, the three longest events in the meet and he embraces it,” Taber said. “He is the kind of guy that will do anything you ask of him and for his team. His consistent work ethic and team-first attitude have earned him tremendous respect among his peers.”
Each All-MIAA swimmer was a member of a number of different relays. The combination of Catton, East, Muller and Smith swam to second place in the 400 medley relay with a time of 3:23.18, a time just a little more than one second away from the Hope record.