Henry Ford II High School swim and dive won the Macomb Area Conference-White championship Feb. 24-25 at Grosse Pointe North.

Henry Ford II High School swim and dive won the Macomb Area Conference-White championship Feb. 24-25 at Grosse Pointe North.

Photo provided by Utica Ford II swim and dive

Utica Ford II swim and dive earn MAC-White championship

Sophomore Max Dexter earns all-state honors

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | C&G Newspapers | Published March 22, 2023

STERLING HEIGHTS/SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Utica Henry Ford II had been longing for a spot at the top of the Macomb Area Conference-White, and in 2023, behind a strong cast of experience and youth, the team came for more than just that.

Going a perfect 5-0 in the league and topping it off with an impressive first-place performance at the MAC-White Championship Feb. 24-25 at Grosse Pointe North, Ford II showed why it’s one of the strongest teams in the MAC.

Ford II, which collected two gold, five silver and three bronze medals in the MAC-White Championship, was led by sophomore standout Max Dexter. Dexter was electric at the MAC-White meet, earning first in the 100 and 200 free, and he was the lone Ford II swimmer to qualify for the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division I State Finals.

“Max has a lot of natural talent in swimming,” Ford II coach Austin Bateman said. “He just knows how to move through water; he’s kinesthetically aware in the water. If you tell him to fix the tiniest thing, he knows how to fix it.”

Bateman and his coaching staff, which includes Brendan LaGorio, Kelly Patterson, Luca Massman and Loren Houston, were named MAC-White Coach of the Year, but they weren’t the only ones to earn MAC-White honors on the team.

Dexter earned the MAC-White Most Valuable Player award this season, qualifying for states in the 50, 100 and 200 free.

Dexter finished his 2023 campaign in impressive fashion, earning all-state honors at the MHSAA Division I State Finals at Calvin University March 10-11. Dexter finished eighth in the 50 free.

“It was a great state meet with lots of talented swimmers,” Dexter said. “I felt as ready as I could have been.”

Ford II’s success was reliant on its strong senior class headlined by Joey Melaragni, David Hurlbert, Dylan Hadrian and Andrew Middlebrook.

Melaragni shined at the MAC-White meet, finishing second in the 100 fly and 500 free, and Hurlbert tallied seventh in the 100 back and 10th in the 200 free.

Melaragni played a pivotal role in a second-place finish in the 200 medley relay alongside Dexter, junior Hien Nguyen and junior Lucas Castillo, and followed that with a third-place finish in the 400 free relay with Hadrian, Middlebrook and junior Brayden Bull.

Bateman said Melaragni and Hurlbert’s success was driven by their commitment day in and day out.

“Both those guys are absolute workhorses in the water,” Bateman said. “Every day, they show up ready to get better and work harder.”

Hadrian and Middlebrook were big time scorers for Ford II this season.

Middlebrook, who finished sixth in the 50 and 100 free at the MAC-White meet, last competed on the swim and dive team his freshman season.

Middlebrook looked like the strong swimmer Ford II knew from his freshman year.

“He picked up right where he left off. It’s almost like he didn’t miss the last two years,” Bateman said.

Castillo (second diving, third 100 back), junior Grant Adams (third diving), junior Owen Baker (fourth 100 fly, sixth 200 IM), and freshman Tayshaun Wong (fifth 200 free, eighth 500 free) all posted exceptional scores at the MAC-White meet.

If it isn’t apparent yet, depth was a luxury for Ford II swim this season. While healthy bodies are always an advantage, it doesn’t always lead to success.

With Ford II, the team’s determination was what pushed it over the edge, and even its humble attitude, which earned Ford II the sportsmanship award this year in the MAC-White.

“The biggest thing is they wanted to win,” Bateman said. “You can have a really talented group of kids, but if they don’t want to push their talents or abilities, they’re not going to win. These boys wanted to win.”

Ford II showed its potential early in the season, earning a win over the MAC-Red’s Macomb Dakota on Dec. 13.

While Dakota had a different look this year due to its 2022 seniors graduating, Ford II’s showing proved to be a season-defining performance.

“Beating them right off the bat, that was just the hottest start to the season we could get,” Bateman said.

While Ford II’s senior class will be one to remember, its young talent should provide nothing but excitement for what’s to come for Ford II’s swim and dive program.