WARREN, Mich. — For a few fleeting moments back on March 12, De La Salle Collegiate swim coach Jim Singelyn had some reservations as the state finals inched closer and closer.
Fears and concerns over the COVID-19 virus were growing by the hour. Should his qualifying boys stay home, or should they make the long trip over to Holland?
"I was worried when we left," Singelyn said. "In the back of my head, I was just thinking, 'Cancel it now so we don't have to drive all the way over there.' You could see it coming, watching all of the college stuff coming down."
The Pilots' six state qualifiers did make the trip. Senior Gianluca Cavataio was set to experience his first state meet. Fellow senior Justin Burke was eager to cap off a career that included four trips to the state finals.
But it wasn't to be.
"We were checked into our rooms for five minutes and the kids came knocking on my door, asking me if I had gone on the MHSAA site," said Singelyn, who quickly learned that the finals had been canceled. "So we waited around another half an hour, grabbed our stuff and that was it."
Singelyn said the boys, which also included juniors Joseph Basha and Juan DiCosmo and sophomores Max Swiatkowski and Michael Paluch, seemed to take it in stride.
"The boys kind of knew," he said. "I think the more they watched TV and saw all of these other things getting canceled, they began to realize, 'This is bigger than just a high school state final.' They were watching what was happening in China and Italy, all the people that were dying. They're not dumb kids.
"That kind of woke them up. But what are you going to do?"
There wasn't much the team could do, other than to reflect upon what was a good season for a very young and mostly-inexperienced team. Having lost a good group of seniors a year ago, Singelyn had his work cut out for him in 2019-20. He had just seven seniors, while on the other end he had six sophomores and 10 freshmen. A lot of raw talent to be sure.
"It was still a good year," Singelyn said. "We had kids who didn't even know what a flip turn was. And these guys were swimming for points at the league meet. Out of those freshmen that came out, there's a good handful that if they stick with it, we're going to be real good in no time."
The senior class included Dario Bruglio, Isaiah Brundidge, Burke, Cavataio, Andy Janusch, Tyler Looman and Rocco Stroker. Bruglio, Brundidge, Burke and Cavataio all swam at the county meet, helping their team to a fifth-place finish.
Entering the meet, the Pilots had won seven straight county championships. This year, Dakota ran away with the title. Swiatkowski had himself a great meet, finishing first in the 100 backstroke, fourth in the 100 freestyle and joined forces with Cavataio, DiCosmo and freshman Carson Ricker to finish fourth in the 400 freestyle relay.
DiCosmo was also third in the individual medley and sixth in the 100 butterfly. Ricker placed eighth in both the 500 freestyle and 100 breaststroke. Paluch was eighth in the individual medley. Basha was runner-up in the 1-meter diving event, while Burke was third.
Juniors John Kafoury, Jr. and Jack Lubinski and sophomore Brady McKay also swam at the county meet.
De La Salle was also fifth at the Catholic League Championships. Swiatkowski was fourth in the 100 backstroke and fifth in the individual medley. DiCosmo was sixth in the individual medley and Basha and Burke took first and second in the diving competition.
"The time cuts at the league meet was amazing," Singelyn said. "You can tell the guys that really put in the work. They bought into what we were doing and what it's all about.
"We had Rocco (Stroker) who came out for just his senior year, he had a great Catholic League meet. He dropped a lot of time. Michael Slusser, a freshman, dropped a ton of time. John Griffith, another freshman, looked really good. He's one to watch."
Understanding that this winter was a rebuilding effort — relative to what his Pilots have had on their roster in recent years — Singelyn said the results show hope for the future.
"Rebuilding is kind of a double-edged sword," the coach said. "It's fun. You've got a bunch of new kids learning and they're dropping a ton of time, but at the same time, it's hard for the veteran guys who had seen the success we've had (recently) — they can't get us there by themselves. So that part was tough."
But with a strong nucleus of big-meet scorers returning, including Swiatkowski, DiCosmo, Basha, Paluch and Ricker, Singelyn is optimistic about next year's team. He's also expecting a couple of incoming freshmen who could make an immediate impact.
"We dealt with a lot this year, including losing our pool," Singelyn said, speaking about a crack in the foundation of the Woods-Tower pool his team generally practices in. "And we had a lot of new kids to the program, really raw. I really had to strip it down (coaching). But I saw a lot of improvements this season and I think we had a pretty good year, overall."