UNIVERSITY CENTER — Dow High’s Nehemiah Mork touched the wall, heard the cheers, and then checked the scoreboard just to make sure.
Another state championship for “Nemo.” Make that two more.
The Chargers’ senior swimmer capped his remarkable high school career by repeating as Division 2 state champion in both the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyles at the state finals on Saturday at Saginaw Valley State University.
Dow finished sixth as a team with 164 points, while Dexter won with 284.
The 6-foot, 2-inch Mork won the 50 free by only .01 second over Birmingham Seaholm’s Liam Little, 20.83 seconds to 20.84 seconds.
“I wasn’t sure (I had won when the race was over),” Mork said with a grin. “ … I took a breath halfway (on the return lap) and I saw that (Little) was neck and neck with me, so I knew it was going to be a close finish. So I really just tried to drive my hands to the wall and touch him out.
“Then everybody started cheering and I was like, ‘Oh no, did I lose?’” Then I looked up and (saw on the scoreboard that I had won),” Mork said.
Little also finished second in Friday’s preliminary heats to Mork.
About an hour later, Mork captured the 100 free by a more comfortable margin, beating Seaholm’s Ryan Lawrence 45.43 to 45.98 and breaking his own school record.
“In the 100 free, I knew this was my strong (event),” Mork said. “This was my last individual event as a high school (student) and I wanted to go out with a bang. … I brought it home fast, I got a lifetime-best time, and I was just really excited about that. Relieved and very excited.”
Mork, who was also part of two relays that took second and third in the state, admitted that he felt considerable pressure to win the 50 free and 100 free for a second straight year.
“I’m just very happy, very relieved (now). The stress is gone,” he said. “When you come in at the beginning of the meet, it’s mentally exhausting because you’re thinking through your races, and you want to win but you don’t know how fast other people are going to go. Once those two events are done with, you just feel so relieved and so happy.”
Dow took second in the 200 free relay (1:26.14) with the team of Mork, Nick Pixton, Jacob Krzciok and Ben Brandstadt, and took third in the 200 medley relay (1:34.89) with Pixton, Noah Behm, Mork and Krzciok, breaking a school record set just a year ago.
After missing out on the championship heat by .01 second in the preliminary heats on Friday, the Chargers’ 400 free relay team of Beau Matthews, Krzciok, Joey Park and Pixton won Saturday’s consolation heat for ninth place in 3:13.48.
Chargers’ coach Gary Strickler was thrilled to see Mork punctuate his career with two more titles and pleased with his team as a whole.
“I was just delighted with everyone’s swims today, and it’s nice to see Nehemiah repeat,” he said. “ … He’s put his name up on the record board (several times). Guys are going to chase those records for years to come.”
In addition, Dow’s Hunter Grannum took fifth in diving (432 points), Noah Behm took fifth in the 100 breaststroke (59.88), Krzciok was 10th in the 100 free (48.10), and Pixton was 12th in the 50 free (22.10).
Grannum, one of only three sophomores to make the final round of diving, said he felt great about his three dives on Saturday.
“I felt like the dives I did today were a lot better than the dives I did in the prelims,” said Grannum, who was competing at state for a second straight year.
The 5-foot-8 Grannum also broke school and Saginaw Valley League records and won the regional championship in a breakthrough season which he credited in part to diving coach Jill Lauderman.
“I didn’t think I was going to be setting all these records this season, but it turned out a lot better than I expected,” he said. “(Lauderman) definitely helped in all (aspects) of diving, from just pure position on the board to everything after that. She helped a bunch.”
Grannum’s family is moving to Missouri, so he will continue his prep diving career there next season. He said he looks forward to competing in Missouri and said he’ll remember his two years at Dow very fondly.
“My two years at Dow honestly were the best years of my life,” he said. “Being on the swim team was just amazing to me. I loved everybody I got to work with. … It was just a great two seasons.”
In terms of the team as a whole, Strickler said that his Chargers performed very well on Saturday, for the most part improving on their finishes from Friday’s prelims.
“Almost every swim was either a season-best or a lifetime-best swim and they competed incredibly well today,” he said. “ … I’m really happy with how our guys performed. Any time you set team records for Dow High over the years have become fairly fast, it’s a good meet. It gets harder and harder to keep going faster and faster.”
Strickler said that Grannum’s diving score and Mork’s school record-time in the 100 free should both qualify for All-America consideration.
Having closed the book on his Dow career, Mork looked ahead to the start of his Michigan State swim career next fall.
“I’m sad that high school is over. It was loads of fun — good times, breaking records, and everything,” he said. “(But) now it’s time to go to Michigan State. … I’m really pumped up for next year, opening a new chapter, and hopefully I can break some MSU school records.”
In Friday’s prelims for Dow, Matthews took 29th (1:48.90), Kevin White took 35th (1:50.26) and Zach Fewkes (1:51.18) took 40th in the 200 free; Behm took 27th in the 200 individual medley (2:04.30), Jacob Pasek took 33rd in diving (126.80), White took 21st (4:54.16), Gage Bunker took 31st (4:59.13) and Fewkes took 41st (5:06.67) in the 500 free, Steve Xu took 25th (57.07) and Alex Owens took 26th (57.15) in the 100 back, and Brandstadt (1:02.62) took 27th and Ben Newman (1:04.06) took 37th in the 100 breast.