Chips set new school record at state finals

Pictured are Manistee’s state qualifiers and alternates. Front row (left to right): Ben Sullivan, Griffen Antal, Caden Schmutzler, Sebastian Larsen and Seth Thompson. Back row: Frederik Rahbek, Dylan Johnson, Zach Lee and Eric Vilardell. (Courtesy photo)

ROCHESTER — The Manistee swim team traveled to Oakland University for the Division 3 state finals over the weekend, and the Chippewas came back with another program record in tow.

Manistee’s Ben Sullivan Dylan Johnson, Zach Lee and Caden Schmutzler took down a four-year-old Manistee mark in the 200-yard freestyle relay with a new record time of 1:32.89. The group set the school record in Friday’s preliminary rounds while placing 19th overall, just outside a top-16 finish that was necessary to advance to Saturday’s final heats.

The Chippewas competed in three other events on Friday — for which they qualified during the Coastal Swim Conference championships in late February — but were again unable to advance past the preliminaries to swim for points the following day.

“It’s a little difficult — but not impossible by any means — to put everything you have into the conference championships, like the guys did this year, and then perform even better at the state meet two weeks later,” said Manistee coach Nick Zacek. “But I can’t be disappointed in some of the guys being off their times from conference, because of the intensity of this state meet. It’s intimidating. With that being said, half of our guys still did improve on their times.”

The 200-yard freestyle relay team’s performance marked the fifth school-record swim of the season for the Chippewas. And their placing was a huge leap from last year’s appearance at the state finals in the same event.

“We did move up a significant amount of places from last year,” Zacek said. “Tying for 19th is still a few places away from 16th, which would put us in Saturday’s finals, but regardless, the guys did the best they could and ended on a great note.

“It was our final chance of the season to break that record, which they missed by just a tenth of a second at the conference meet, but they came out and got the job done.”

The team of Eric Vilardell, Lee, Sebastian Larsen and Schmutzler placed 28th in the 200-yard medley relay in the time of 1:46.86, while Schmutzler — a senior — capped his prep career with a 24th-place finish in the 50-yard freestyle (22.67) and 26th in the 100-yard freestyle (50.31), events in which he set new school records at the conference championships two weeks ago.

“In talking with Caden, he has no regrets,” Zacek said. “He really put everything he could into this, as well as his last few seasons here.

“His name will be up on our (record) board now, and you can honestly say he’s the fastest sprinter in Manistee history,” he added. “From when he started to now, he was able to develop into an absolutely fine sprinter and just a great, overall talented young man. And being our only true senior this year, he was a great leader — a tremendous role model for those younger guys.”

And speaking of those younger guys, the weekend’s state finals experience is sure to suit them well down the road, according to Zacek.

“We were one of, if not the, youngest teams at that meet,” he explained. “A lot of the swimmers in the top 16 of these individual races are for the most part juniors and seniors, especially in the sprints. As many sophomores as we have, it was a great experience for them to look closely at these guys who are kind of the talk of the weekend. And our guys absolutely have the potential to be them.

“I really tried to make it clear to the guys that even though we didn’t swim on Saturday, it was another opportunity for them to see top-level swimming,” Zacek said. “They were able to see why these swimmers made a top-eight time, just by the way they look under water, above water, on the turns, on the finish — all of those little features that make a big difference. I was happy they were able to see that and really take note of it.”

Zacek added that this year has been one for the books at Manistee.

“Looking back, this has been the best season that I’ve been a part of in the three that I’ve been with the program,” he said. “It was a treat to watch literally every single one of our athletes improve in substantial ways throughout the year.

“To see our record board be rewritten, how much more of a fight we’re putting up at the conference championships, and the number of guys we sent to the state meet all have been really special. We hope to keep capitalizing on those strides.”

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