Highest finish at Division 3 state finals in school history, plus broken school records and academic accomplishments round out stellar year


The Ottawa Hills boys swimming and diving team finished a record-high 16th place at the Division 3 state finals held March 8 and 9 at Oakland University. From left to right: Eve Julian (coach), Ashley Keener (diving coach), Dawson Eriksen (12), Caleb Hekman (12), Judah Vandyke (12), Andrew DeBoer (12), Jonathan Hoffman (9), Ben Vaandrager (12), Adam Kuzee (11), DJ Cochran (assistant coach)

It was a year of broken records for the Ottawa Hills High School boys swimming and diving team.

The Bengals had their highest team finish of 16th place at the Division 3 state finals on March 8 and 9 at Oakland University.

Diver Caleb Hekman made All-State by placing fifth, tying a school record going way back to 1990 when Robin Ward placed fifth at the state meet. The team achieved several academic honors and broke a few school records along the way this season as well.

Ottawa Hills tied Pinckney for 16th place with a total of 40 points, while Holland Christian won the D3 state title with 323.5 points. Area swimming giants East Grand Rapids placed second at 267.

I knew that we were going to have a good season, we have a very talented senior class that had already placed at the state meet as juniors,” said coach Eve Julian, in her 14th season at Ottawa Hills. “We also added a very fast freshman backstroker (Jonathan Hoffman) this year. I had no idea that we would place as high as we did, though. Especially considering how much training we missed in January and February due to pool issues, the polar vortex and the ice storm.”

Hekman (All-State, possibly All-American)

Julian said Hekman, a City High/Middle School senior, is an all-around athlete.

“In middle school, he participated in four sports each year: soccer, basketball, bowling and baseball,” said Julian, who also swam at Ottawa Hills and walked on at Michigan State before succumbing to a shoulder injury. “Caleb decided to try diving as a freshman because his friends talked him into it. On the second day of practice our diving coach Ashley Keener shouted across the pool to me, ‘He has six dives,’ and I knew he was going to be special. He qualified for regionals and then made it to the state meet as a freshman.

“Caleb attended dive camps in the summers to work on his skills, and continued to play soccer in the fall and spring. He has put in a lot of time, over 400 hours of practice in the last four seasons, and effort, and he continually challenged himself to be better. He has fought through back, knee, shoulder and ankle injuries over his career.

“Last year he tied for ninth place at the state meet and when it was over he told me that his senior year he was going to be All-State.”

He also earned All-American diving consideration, to be judged in June. If he makes the list of the top 100 divers he will be an All-American.

Hekman has made the state finals all four years, working his way up from 36th place as a freshman to this year’s finish of fifth.

“It feels amazing to be an All-State athlete, as I had missed it the year before because when I finished ninth, only top eight are All-State qualifiers,” Hekman explained. “I was determined to get it the following year.

“To be on a team that is the best that it has ever been in the history of the program feels amazing.”

Hekman, a three-year captain and all-conference athlete for two seasons, also plays soccer for Ottawa Hills.

“I am set to attend the University of Michigan at their engineering college and have not yet determined if I will continue my soccer career in college, but it is unlikely that I will dive in college due to the large amount of practices, and in order to dive, I would have to change my major and be there for five years.”

He had much to say about his coaches.

“Coach Eve Julian and my diving coach Ashley Keener have helped push me out of my comfort zone and work to be great at something I had never done before.”

Strong State Finishes

Teammates’ Hoffman, Andrew DeBoer, Adam Kuzee and Dawson Eriksen placed 10th (1:40.38) in the 200 medley relay at the state finals, while Hoffman finished 11th (55.36) in the 100 backstroke and DeBoer placed 11th (1:01.27) in the 100 breaststroke.

Team Records

Hoffman, DeBoer, Kuzee and Eriksen broke the Ottawa Hills record in the 200 medley, and Hoffman and DeBoer also broke the school records in the 100 backstroke and 100 breaststroke, respectively. DeBoer also broke the Rainbow Conference Tier 2 record and Hastings pool record in the 100 breaststroke.

“The three returning swimmers from last season’s state final 200 medley relay (DeBoer, Kuzee and Eriksen) told me that their goal was to break the Rainbow Conference record and place higher in the state meet,” said Julian, who was voted the Michigan Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association Zone 5 Coach of the Year last season. “With the addition of freshman Backstroker Jonathan Hoffman, they were able to reach both of those goals. The relay earned their state qualifying time during the second meet of the season … and Hoffman was the fastest freshman backstroker in the state.”

Fast and Furious Finish

Julian said though nearly half the team was new to swimming, they had a strong finish.

“We had a challenging season because of the weather and record number of snow days, but the team worked hard when they could and swam really well at the end of the season,” Julian explained. “At the conference meet, we had 95 percent best times at prelims and 70 percent best times at finals. It seemed like we dropped most of our time for the season on those two days.

“This is also one of the tightest teams that I have ever had. They had great leadership with their captains Andrew DeBoer, Dawson Eriksen and Caleb Hekman, and the team was really supportive of each other and the efforts of everyone, not just the state meet guys.”

Academic Awards

DeBoer, Eriksen, Hekman and Ben Vaandrager earned Academic All-America, while DeBoer, Eriksen, Hekman, Vaandrager and Evan Jasinski earned Academic All-State. Academic All-America requires an athlete to be a senior with a cumulative 3.75 GPA (on a 4.0 scale) over seven semesters to qualify. The four swimmers that received the Academic All-America award are all seniors at City High/Middle School, “which makes their accomplishment all that much more impressive,” Julian said. Approximately 2 percent of the graduating seniors around the country even qualify for the award.

The Academic All-State requirement is a 3.65 or better on a 4.0 scale.

The Bengals also earned the NISCA Scholar Team Award: Bronze Level for a combined 3.211 average GPA. The NISCA Scholar team award requires a team average GPA of 3.20 on a 4.0 scale.

“This is the first year that I have had a team that had an average GPA high enough to submit for the award,” said Julian, who works in sales and support for IST, which sells swimming scoreboards and timing systems.

DeBoer, a four-year swimmer at Ottawa Hills and City High/Middle School senior, was proud of the team’s accomplishments this season.

“My freshman year our team was only 18 at its peak, so seeing the massive growth we’ve had is absolutely incredible,” said DeBoer, who qualified for four events at state last year. “Every year we lose seniors who are key parts of our success and we wonder how we’re going to fill the space they left, and every year our veterans make huge improvements to fill that space.”

Leadership Experience

DeBoer, a second-year captain, came into the season with leadership experience.

“Most of the time the boys make it really easy, they listen well, do what coach asks them to do, work hard in practice, and there is hardly ever conflict between teammates that needs intervention.”

Though he “loves” year-round club swimming for the Rapid Area YMCA, DeBoer said every fall he’s “itching to get back in with the Ottawa boys; it’s just a different level of friendship and brotherhood.”

A Little Help from Coach

DeBoer said it’s hard to explain the role Julian has played in his development as a swimmer and person.

“During swim season, I spend more time with her than I do my own parents,” said DeBoer, who has committed to swim for St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. “My sophomore season I injured my shoulder and needed to take time off and rehab. I was worried I was never going to get better, but Eve was there with me every step of the way. I ended up having a great season and haven’t had an injury since. She has been such a good motivator and support for me for the past four years.”

Beyond swimming, DeBoer is heavily involved in choir.

“I sing with the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus, and I’m in a few different groups at my school,” said DeBoer, who’s been in choir for nearly 10 years.

Noodles, Not Tomatoes

“I’ll eat literally anything except a plain tomato; tomatoes are the worst food ever conceived. As a swimmer, though, noodles are just about the best food you can eat. Noodles are the antithesis of tomatoes.”

caleb hekman

Ottawa Hills diver Caleb Hekman made All-State by placing fifth at the Division 3 boys state finals held March 8 and 9 at Oakland University. Hekman is a senior at City High/Middle School.