Birmingham Groves swim and dive celebrates its second-straight MHSAA Division 2 state title March 9 at Eastern Michigan University.

Birmingham Groves swim and dive celebrates its second-straight MHSAA Division 2 state title March 9 at Eastern Michigan University.

Photo provided by Nick Valice

Falcons flourish at D2 state finals meet, win second-straight title

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 1, 2024

 Birmingham Groves senior Gus MacDonald hoists the Division 2 state championship trophy.

Birmingham Groves senior Gus MacDonald hoists the Division 2 state championship trophy.

Photo provided by Nick Valice


BIRMINGHAM — For first-year Birmingham Groves swim and dive head coach Nick Valice, the state meet had his emotions in the front seat of an endless roller coaster.

“It’s funny you used that exact phrase, because that’s the exact phrase I’ve kind of used to pinpoint the last two days over and over,” Valice said. “It was definitely a roller coaster of emotions. I can honestly say that I don’t know if I’ve ever been that up-and-down in my life with anything.”

After every meet, days and days of practices, and all the offseason preparation, the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 2 Swim and Dive State Championship March 9 at Eastern Michigan University  would come down to one final event — the 400-yard freestyle relay.

Groves was on fire throughout the meet with the exception of an early DQ by senior Joey Stebbins in the 200-yard medley relay, but had some assistance from Birmingham Seaholm, who led the majority of the state meet, when Seaholm endured a DQ themselves in the 200-yard freestyle relay.

Groves, the reigning D2 state champion, knew what it took to bring home a state title along with their neighborhood rivals in Seaholm, who have won four state titles since 2010. Then there were the new kids on the block in Farmington, who threw their hat in the ring as one of the three teams vying for the top spot in the final race.

Knowing the stakes and the pressure, Valice said he was focused on keeping his guys composed and keeping their heads in the game.

“I’m kind of big on keeping the boys up-to-base on where we are as far as standings go,” Valice said. “This is what’s possible and this is what it’s going to take. After DQing that medley relay, we pushed the focus to keeping our foot on the gas and that anything could happen. Luckily for us, there was a DQ later from another team (Birmingham Seaholm) that put us back in contention and gave us a shot. I went over at that point and said, ‘Boys, you’ve done an amazing job so far, but we just got to keep our heads. You’re going to be in a position to win if you can keep your composure and do everything the way we need to.’”

Led by Stebbins, sophomore Nathan Stebbins, sophomore Ian Whan and senior Gus MacDonald, who anchored the relay, Groves finished three seconds ahead of second-place Farmington to win the event and the 2024 MHSAA state championship title, finishing one point ahead (255) of Farmington and Seaholm (244).

A DQ can be a confidence killer for any team, especially in a meet with as much magnitude as the state meet, but Joey Stebbins did exactly what a senior veteran would do. He took accountability, he rallied his guys, and he instilled confidence into the team that they could overcome the adversity.

“As soon as that event ended, he came right up to me and the team,” Valice said. “The first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Guys, I messed up. I’m sorry. Let’s keep our foot on the gas and keep fighting.’ I actually think his attitude and way of handling is a big part of the reason we were able to roll through that and keep pushing to have a chance at the end.”

MacDonald (1st), Joey Stebbins (2nd), and Nathan Stebbins (4th) would control the 200 IM, while MacDonald would also take first in the 100-yard breaststroke. Senior Asa Allen turned in impressive performances in the 50-yard freestyle (9th), 100-yard freestyle (5th), and in the 200-yard freestyle relay (2nd) as the anchor alongside Nathan Stebbins, sophomore Ian Whan, and senior Zach Lezovich.

The seniors like Allen, MacDonald and Joey Stebbins were exactly the kind of leaders Groves needed them to be, but the sophomore class of Whan and Nathan Stebbins really came into their own this season.

Whan earned second in the 50-yard freestyle and fourth in the 100-yard freestyle, while Nathan Stebbins finished second in the 500-yard freestyle and both carried key roles in the relays for Groves.

“Those two were absolutely incredible this weekend,” Valice said. “We watched Ian Whan develop a lot of confidence this year. He kind of came into the year a little more as a sophomore and not really confident with what he could do, but I watched him over the course of three months shift as a person and gain a lot more confidence. He kind of realized what he was capable of doing and performed at the state meet. Nate (Stebbins) did awesome. Nate is probably one of the hardest working kids I’ve worked with. There’s never an off day with that kid. He’s an amazing leader in the water and out of the water.”

Groves will undoubtedly miss a senior class that’s been at the helm of back-to-back state titles, but its young core only brings excitement for a Groves team that should continue to be in contention.

Great leaders instill confidence and wisdom into their young counterparts, and Valice said Groves’ senior group excelled in that department.

“Coming in as a first-year coach with a group of kids that were reigning state champions, it was definitely a little hard, and I could definitely sense a little bit of distrust at first,” Valice said. “Those seniors were the group to really help the rest of the team buy in and focus in on goals. They were amazing at keeping our younger swimmers accountable. We’re definitely not where we are without that group.”