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January 18, 2012

Chippewa swim team hasn’t taken long to find its way to the top

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

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Chippewa Valley senior Jeff Voss competes in the 100 backstroke at a recent meet. Voss is one of nine seniors on the roster this season, and the Big Reds are hoping their veteran experience will help them claim a second consecutive MAC title.

Moving from one division to another can sometimes require an adjustment period for teams participating in high school athletics, no matter the sport.

Last season the Chippewa Valley boys swim team won the Macomb Area Conference White Division championship, and following the title, the Big Reds were moved into the MAC Red Division for this season. While the season is still relatively young, Chippewa Valley may be putting other teams on notice that it doesn’t exactly intend to enter the division quietly.

At press time, the Big Reds were off to a 2-0 start in league action (4-1 overall), following victories over Grosse Pointe North and Romeo High.

“That’s pretty good considering we just moved up,” Chippewa coach Tony Grice said. “It just depends (on) how things fall. You may get moved up, and you may not have as much returning. If you were good the last two years, sometimes you graduate those kids and you’re not as good as the previous year.

“But in our case, we are definitely better than last year,” the coach continued. “We’re improving and getting faster. So this year’s definitely going to be a good year for us in the Red.”

Perhaps the prime reason Chippewa may be able to take the MAC Red by storm this season is that its roster is laden with veteran experience. The Big Reds are taking to the pool with nine seniors this season, and Grice is well-aware of what their presence can mean for the program.

“They have a huge part in teaching the other swimmers,” he said. “The newer swimmers see what they do, and we’re building up. We’re trying to get new kids into swimming, teach them how to swim, and they help with that. They help those kids get involved and interested. (They’re) trying to bring them along in the sport, so they can become good swimmers and enjoy it.”

Three of those seniors are Tommy Bender, Craig Pertler and Jeff Voss. All three have contributed to breaking school records. The trio has, along with sophomore Ben Pitlock and recent graduate Connor Muzichuk, the program’s best time in the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay races, respectively.

Individually, Pertler owns the record in the 100 butterfly, while Bender can lay claim to the best time in both the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke. They are team captains for the Big Reds, and both have the potential to qualify for the state finals.

“Craig, I believe, in his 100 butterfly (is) only a tenth (of a second) away from qualifying, so he’s real close,” Grice said. “He’s an all-around swimmer for us. He’s the leader in and out of the pool. He’s determined to get to that next level and swim well at states.

“And Tom Bender is the same thing,” the coach added. “He was within a tenth of the 50 free cut, too. He’s real close to qualifying in the 100 free right now. He’s got a few events he could do at states. Both of them have been leaders and huge contributors to this team.”

The success the Big Reds have recently enjoyed may be helping to bring attention to their sport. While teams from Oakland County and the Grosse Pointes have traditionally had stronger swimming programs than those from Macomb, Grice has noticed an increase in the interest level in the program at from Chippewa students. The Big Reds currently have a roster of 34 swimmers, which is the most Grice has had since he began coaching at the school a few years ago.

“Our team is growing over the last few years,” he said. “Our girls team has won the county meet the last couple years. (They’re a) very large team. I think the boys are starting to catch on too now. Hopefully, we can have some of the same success they’ve had. And Dakota, which is our sister school in the district, they’ve become very strong too in the boys and girls teams.”

Whatever the future may hold for the swim program, Grice likes the look of his current 2011-2012 team. And while Chippewa is looking to take aim at a MAC Red title this season, that is not where its ambitions end.

“Unfortunately, the county meet’s in mid-season, it’s not at the end of the season,” he said. “But it’s a good meet to get the kids excited and swim fast. That’s something we’re looking to do really well at.

“The last few years we’ve been in the top six every year, so it’s something we’ve been building on the last couple years. But it’s not our end goal. Divisions is where we want to swim fast, and those kids that qualify for states, to swim fast there.”

Chippewa’s next meet is at 5 p.m. Jan. 26, as the Big Reds will travel to Grosse Pointe South.

 

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.