By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
Through their first six dual meets, the Oxford Wildcats boys’ swimming and diving program, led by head coach Jackie Rank, is off to a 4-2 start, featuring victories over the Berkley Bears, Lake Orion Dragons, and Royal Oak Ravens, all of whom are fellow Oakland Activities Association (OAA) White Division members.
The Lake Orion win on February 4, in addition to the rivalry nature of the matchup, was made even more impressive by the fact it came on the road.
The Stoney Creek Cougars, who belong to the OAA Red, and the Troy Colts, a divisional foe, are the only two programs to top the Wildcats this season.
Oxford’s roster includes 30 young men, nine of whom are seniors, providing Rank and assistant coaches Paul Howard and John Pearson with plenty of returning experience and swimmers and divers who can help show the underclassmen the way to continue the strong tradition of the program.
“Our quote for this year is, ‘Don’t count the days, make the days count,’” Rank said.
“That’s what we’re trying to live by just because, well, with the pandemic, you don’t really know what you’re going to get and we’re lucky to have what we do have. Just trying to make every moment count, and it’s hard when you’re in the moment because it’s such a short season, but it seems so long in the moment.”
During our February 19 conversation, Rank identified some of the program’s top individual performers in 2020-21.
“Senior Zach Beatty, senior Ben Datsko, senior Nolan May, and junior Carson Wolf,” she said. “Diving-wise, freshman Liam Pearson, and, obviously, when you’re competing in dual meets, it’s not just those top-level kids, it’s the depth of the program. So, those kids that are able to squeak out some third, fourth, fifth-places, so, we do have more athletes than just those that are listed that are big contributors to the team, but I would say those are probably our standouts in the different events.
“Up until last night (the February 18 victory over the Bears), Carson Wolf was undefeated individually, but he swam against Jack Hamilton at Berkley and that kid is a phenom, which Carson, in his own right, could be, as well.”
Hamilton, a senior for the Bears, is one of the top swimmers in the state and is committed to further his student-athlete career for the Kentucky Wildcats in the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
Like nearly every other Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) athletic program and after-school activity, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has forced swimming to alter their method of conducting the season, including having spectators and visitors use their cell phone to complete a “health screening questionnaire.”
“What this does is allow us to keep track of who’s entered the building, what their temperature was, that they stated ‘no’ to each of those questions,” Rank said. “Obviously, masks at all times, except for when they’re swimming or getting ready to dive, social distancing, no more than four teams at a location. That’s why, at the Oakland County Meet, we’re doing eight different sites, and we have three teams here with us, other sites might only have three teams.”
Fortunately, for the OAA White League Meet, set to be held at Royal Oak from March 10-12, the conference will receive a waiver from the MHSAA allowing qualifiers from all seven of the division’s member schools to compete at a singular location like a normal year.
Junior varsity swimming will begin the league meet festivities on Wednesday, March 10, followed by diving on Thursday, March 11, and the varsity swimmers concluding the three-day event on Friday, March 12.
On Saturday, February 20, Oxford hosted their Third Annual Wildcat Diving Invitational, with Pearson, John’s son, finishing tied for tenth-place among 17 participants in the 11-dive event and senior Michael Funke capturing second-place in the six-dive session.
Sophomore Keegan Fox also competed for Oxford in the six-dive, scoring a sixth-place finish.
Before the league meet rolls around, the Wildcats have a couple more opportunities to sharpen their craft, taking part in the Oakland County Meet on February 26-27 and will host the Rochester Adams Highlanders in an OAA White battle on Thursday, March 4.