By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
Seven Oxford Wildcats swimmers and divers made the trip to Hudsonville High School to represent the program in the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) Division I State Meet on March 26 and 27.
Scoring 30 points, the Wildcats finished in 19th-place among the 35 represented schools, two points ahead of the rival Lake Orion Dragons, who came home in 20th-place.
The Ann Arbor Pioneer Pioneers (369 points) captured the state team title, followed by the Holland West Ottawa Panthers (233.5), Saline Hornets (230), Detroit Catholic Central Shamrocks (225), and Northville Mustangs (209) to complete the top-five.
Oxford’s two divers, senior Michael Funke and freshman Liam Pearson, began the festivities on March 26. Totaling scores of 126.15 and 113.7, respectively, in the preliminary round, they slotted in 29th and 35th out of the field of 36.
On the swimming side, junior Carson Wolf was the Wildcats’ top individual performer, finishing in 10th-place in the 200-yard freestyle at 1:43.72. Senior Zach Beatty added a 21st-place standing in the event at 1:46.8.
Three Oxford student-athletes participated in the 100-yard butterfly, with senior Ben Datsko finishing the highest of the trio in 11th-place at 51.68. Beatty came in 26th at 53.92, and fellow senior Nolan May was 30th at 54.63.
Datsko delivered another 11th-place showing in the 100-yard breaststroke at 58.82, and Wolf was 12th in the 500-yard freestyle at 4:47.51.
Beatty, Datsko, May, and Wolf also represented the Wildcats in two relay events, the 200-yard medley and the 400-yard freestyle, earning 14th-place in the former and 18th in the latter.
Another senior, Cole Bukoski, traveled to Hudsonville as an alternate in case there were any coronavirus (COVID-19)-related issues, but was not needed to participate in any events.
“Super proud of the divers, glad they were able to compete,” head coach Jackie Rank said of Funke and Pearson, who both made their first trip to the state finals.
“Glad they made it as state qualifiers, glad that Liam (Pearson) is a freshman and will be able to continue, it’s pretty huge for a freshman to be a state qualifier, so pretty excited to see him the next few years.”
Rank also shared some of the swimming performances were good for new school records.
“Carson Wolf, he ended up breaking Jared Butler’s school record in the 200 freestyle and broke his own school record in the 500 freestyle,” she began.
“In the 200 medley relay, we took 14th, but broke the school record by eleven-hundredths. The biggest (time) drop we had was in the 400 free relay, they set a new school record by not quite two-and-a-half seconds.
“They got medals for the medley relay, Carson got a 10th-place medal for the 200 free and a 12th-place medal for the 500 free, and Ben Datsko got 11th-place individual medals for the 100 (butterfly) and the 100 breaststroke.”
Evidenced by five of Oxford’s state meet participants being seniors, the Class of 2021 led the charge in the team’s success throughout the year. Rank, who also head coaches the girls’ team in the fall, took a moment to share what this group has meant to her and the program over the last four years.
“For both the girls and the boys, this was a super strong senior class, not only in talent, but in leadership and work ethic and team camaraderie and spirit,” she said.
“I think there’s a lot of that left, I know the boys are going to try to step up and fill these shoes, but they’ve got some big shoes to fill, for sure.
“We’re still trying to plan the banquets; I don’t really want to do anything virtual. So, whether that means waiting until it’s a little bit nicer, which is what we did for the boys last year, we ended up doing something socially distanced outside to wrap up the season.
“I’m kind of waiting to see what happens with the trends in numbers after spring break to see what happens. I would do two separate banquets, a banquet for the girls and the boys, but waiting to see if that’s going to be late-April or I wait and push it back a little bit. This is going to be a tough group to say goodbye to, for sure.”
Taking an early look ahead to the 2021-22 Wildcats, Rank identified some young men for fans and supporters of the program to keep an eye on next school year.
“Freshman-wise, Olin Charnstrom, he’s one that I think will qualify individually for states next year from a swimming standpoint,” she shared. “He was close to the 100 backstroke state cut this year and is a great all-around swimmer, tended to swim the shorter-distance freestyles and the backstroke events and relays, but I could put him other places.
“I would say definitely Jake Olheiser, sprint freestyle and backstroke there, as well. Preston Mueller, he’s got a lot of potential. Cole’s little brother, Cameron Bukoski, that’s another one that I think will be a big asset coming back.
“Owen Avey, he was our junior captain this year, 200 freestyle, 100 butterfly. Finn Wohltmann, breaststroke, IM, he’ll be another really good one. Evan Serrano, he was one that was really kind of coming into his own in the sprint freestyle events toward the end of the season. Luke Datsko, Ben’s little brother, very, very different siblings, but I think Luke was really starting to find himself and really likes the breaststroke, just like his brother, so I think he’ll be another really good one.
“Diving-wise, Keegan Fox. Keegan, unfortunately, didn’t get to compete at the league meet because we were pulled out of the diving. He was a sophomore this year and I think that he and Liam, with divers being a tough spot to fill, will be able to build from within and get those points.
“I think I’d be in trouble if I didn’t mention Brennan McDevitt. It’s funny, this group of seniors, they called themselves the “Fresh Four” when they were freshmen, Zack Beatty, Ben Datsko, Nolan May, and Cole Bukoski, and there’s a group of sophomores this year that kind of fit the same profile, and that’s Jake Olheiser, Brennan McDevitt, Preston Mueller, and Cameron Bukoski, it’s kind of like the same dynamic.”
After residing in the Oakland Activities Association (OAA) White Division this year, Oxford is expecting to move to the Blue Division in 2021-22, a change the girls’ program has already finalized.
By Teddy Rydquist