In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, Mason took a giant step toward its third consecutive CAAC Red boys swimming title with a 95-88 win over previously unbeaten Waverly/Lansing Catholic in their final league dual meet of the season Thursday.
“We lost so many swimmers last year (to graduation),” Mason coach Connie Cantrell said. “Three of them were all-staters and another three were state qualifiers, so we lost a huge chunk last year. But our new guys have stepped up so much, our seniors have showed so much leadership.”
The Bulldogs completed their dual league season with a perfect 7-0 record, and will clinch the title outright with a win in the league meet at Eaton Rapids on Feb. 21 and 22.
“They swam their hearts out tonight,” Cantrell said. “They knew it was going to be close. I scored it out on paper and didn’t have us winning. It was so fun to watch them, they swam tough all night. It was awesome.”
Branden Stetler and Corbin Shuler led the way for the Bulldogs, winning or sharing first-place points in all four events they swam.
Stetler won the 200-yard individual medley, the 100-yard breaststroke and as part of the 200-yard freestyle and 200-yard medley relays, and Shuler was also part of those relays, as well as winning the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races.
Patrick Hyatt also swam in the winning relays, and took second in the 200 IM and the 100-yard butterfly.
“The leadership of our captains, Corbin Shuler, Patrick Hyatt and Branden Stetler, has been so key in getting these younger guys coached up,” Cantrell said. “During a meet, there’s very little that I can actually do, so I just stand back and hope for the best. When we get to this point in the season, that’s pretty much where I’m at, but this was really exciting to watch today.”
Sophomore Joey Lashbrook led the way for Waverly-Lansing Catholic, winning the 200- and 500-yard freestyle races and taking first place as part of the winning 400-yard freestyle relay, as well as taking second as part of the 200 freestyle relay.
But coach Dave Hill said that his team could have done better.
“We swam a little flat in most areas,” Hill said. “We had a couple of good swims, (Pedro) Bueno qualified for the state meet and a couple of others, but for the most part, we were just flat.”
The most obvious difference between the two teams was that Mason took all 13 points in the diving competition without any opposition. Hill refused to use that as an excuse.
“We’re used to that, we haven’t had a diver in five years, so it’s 13-0 before we even get off the bus,” he said. “We know we have to overcome that, and we’re good enough to overcome that, we were just not tough enough to overcome that.
“We outscored them in the swimming events. So what?”
Cantrell said that the meet turned on the 100-yard breast stroke, in which Mason sophomore Michael Liberato took fourth-place points.
“He was over three seconds faster (than previously) and touched out the guy next to him where he wouldn’t even have placed,” she said. “That was a big difference.”
As a result, Mason is on the verge of making program history. The school has seen two straight league titles just twice before.
“We haven’t had this since the 1990’s, and before that it was the 1970’s,” Cantrell said. “I swam here at Mason in the 80’s, and we didn’t have the depth to do it then.”