What do you do when you win nearly every event and set state and national records, and yet, it’s still not enough to win?
If you’re a Saline Hornet, you find a way to get better.
The Saline boys’ swim and dive team one-upped their remarkable preliminaries performance and came from behind to beat Birmingham Brother Rice, 313-309, in the closest Division 1/Class A state meet since at least 1998.
The outcome was in doubt until the day’s final event, the 400 relay, when David Boland, Jacob Ehrman, Matt Sieffert, and Stefan Koberl finished fourth – just good enough to clinch the state championship.
It was Saline’s fourth straight state title. The Hornets became the first D1 team to accomplish the “four-peat,” and the first school to do so since Class A Brother Rice won five straight in the mid-90s. They also became the only Saline High School sports team in history to win four straight state titles.
Two-time Swimmer of the Year Josh Ehrman said the Hornets knew it was going to be a dog fight. That made victory even sweeter.
“It was a lot of pressure. But I enjoyed it more than I enjoy winning by a lot. There were swims where we knew we had to go fast if we wanted to win,” Erhman said. “When you’re put under that kind of pressure, you’re going to perform. We’ve knew we put in the work. We knew what we had to do. We went out and did it.”
Lesson? In a sink-or-swim situation, the Hornets will swim.
Saline head coach Todd Brunty was asked if it would have been cruel for the Hornet seniors to lose this meet after everything they’ve accomplished.
“It would have been really tough. But after they way they swam today, I could walk out of here in second place and I’d be about the same level of happiness,” Brunty said. “I’m just happy for (the boys). They got the chance to go for four and it was a lot of pressure on them.”
More pressure than the team expected.
Michael Bundas, who won his first ever individual championship in the 50 sprint, said the Hornets were battling to stay confident and composed.
“It was stressful. Everyone was talking about how we were going to lose. We tried as hard as we could to keep guys relaxed and calm. It was even hectic for the seniors and veterans, but we pulled through it,” Bundas said.
The Hornets were paced again by their star seniors. Josh Ehrman, named Swimmer of the Year for the second consecutive year, had a banner day. Ehrman won and set an all class record in the 200 IM (1:47.86). Ehrman won and set an all class record in the 100 breaststroke (55.31). David Boland won the 100 butterfly and tied his own Division 1 record (48.59). Boland also won the backstroke and set the Division 1 record (49.75). Adam Whitener 200 freestyle in a career best 1:38.31 and he won the 100 freestyle in a career best 44.65. Michael Bundas won the 50-yard dash in a personal best 20.96. He was also sixth in the 100 yard freestyle.
Those four seniors combined on one event – the opening 200 IM relay. Boland, Ehrman, Bundas and Whitener shaved a .25 seconds off their own national public school record and won in 1:30.01, more than four seconds faster than second place Livonia Stevenson.
Saline’s other relay was in the 200 freestyle (Ehrman, Bundas, Koberl, and Whitener). The Hornets placed second to Brother Rice in Friday’s preliminaries, and when Whitener dove into the pool to anchor in Saturday’s event, he was a few feet behind the Brother Rice.
“We were a few feet behind. I just wanted to do everything I could to finish strong and take it home,” Whitener said.
And that’s exactly what he did. Saline won the event by .40 seconds. More importantly, it was a 12-point swing from Brother Rice to Saline late in the meet. Brother Rice never recovered. In fact, they dropped positioning in two subsequent events, giving Saline just a little bit of breathing room in their final relay. But not much. As long as Brother Rice was going to win the final relay, Saline needed to finish 5th or better to win the championship, outright. In the prelims, Saline had finished fifth.
Boland swam the opening leg of the relay.
“Before the race, everyone was getting me all pumped up. I knew it was coming down to the last relay. I just wanted to get them out there as far as I could with the best 100 I could possibly swim,” Boland said.
That’s what happened. Boland gave the team the lead. Brother Rice took over in the second leg, but freshman Jacob Ehrman, junior Matt Sieffert and Koberl held tightly to fourth place, sealing the victory.
Saline’s other big advantage Saturday came from their divers.
Sam Blair, Dustin Wall and Alex Calder each improved their positioning from day one, picking up important points for the Hornets.
Blair, who hoped for an individual state championship, rebounded from a tough preliminary round to finish second overall (428.5). Fellow senior Dustin Wall was sixth (385.45). Freshman Alex Calder was 11th (369.10).
“As far as I’m concerned, the divers saved our butts,” Brunty said. “Just like they did all year.”
Saline coach Gretchen Plamondon was named diving coach of the year. It was the third time she received the award.
Of her seven-member team, Plamondon sent five to regionals, four to the state meet, and three to the podium.
“The boys’ contribution to this team was huge. They are a great group of guys,” Plamondon said. “I couldn’t ask for better athletes or a better group of guys.”
Brunty said he knew at the end of the 2012 meet that the 2013 meet would come down to Saline and Brother Rice. He said he’s been trying to stress the importance of depth to the team all year.
At Friday’s preliminaries, the depth didn’t come through. Stefan Koberl the only other Hornet to qualify for the individual events (he was 7th in the 200 IM and 15th in the butterfly). But, ironically, it was the depth in that 400 relay that clinched the championship.
“Our big guys have paved the way and opened the doors for the other guys. Yesterday, the other guys didn’t follow. Today, they came back and followed the leadership,” Brunty said. “Hopefully, right there, in that last race, we just passed the leadership baton.”
Whether or not a Saline boys’ swim and dive remains a state championship-caliber program in the near future will depend on many factors. But even if Saline continues its success, the Hornets will likely never ever see a class like the class of 2013.
Still basking the glory of four championships in four years, Boland, Bundas, Whitener and Ehrman struggled to find words to describe how they capped their brilliant high school swim careers.
Bundas was pleased to join “the Big 3” and make it “the Big 4.”
“It’s so much more gratifying knowing that I helped the team, and got points in crucial areas and big events. I couldn’t be happier,” Bundas said.
On winning four straight, Ehrman had only this to say.
“It was great. It was awesome,” he said.
And for Boland, the victory was sweet.
“I had the time of my life here,” he said.