Pandemic costs medley relay team its state-meet moment

It was a Thursday evening in early March and the RCHS state-qualifying swim team was finishing its last practice of the season. 

In a couple hours, the Pirates would depart for Rochester in preparation for the Michigan High School Athletic Association state finals. It was at that time when coach Ryan Pickell got the bad news; the state meet was canceled. 

This was coach Pickell’s first year as head coach, but after serving as an assistant the previous four seasons, he knew the swimmers well. However, it didn’t make breaking the news to them any easier. Their season was done.

There have been many stories like this one related to COVID-19. But as the saying goes, it’s not about the destination, but the journey to get there. If there’s something to be proud of, it was the journey. 

The medley relay of Ben Johnson, Ardi Saraci, Gavin Rose, and Eric Pickell had an outstanding swim at the Southeastern Michigan Independent Swim League (SMISL) meet in Dundee a week earlier. It was the first event of the meet and they kicked it off strong with a state-qualifying time of 1:46.22 and a third-place finish. 

“A month earlier was the first time we had even put that relay combination together,” said Pickell. “Throughout most of the season, we were trying to find the correct order and swimmers that could get us to the state meet.” 

Swimmers Zachariah Thomas and Dorian Saraci found themselves competing for spots and working to help put the pieces of the relay together, as they had been part of the relay at multiple meets prior. The two of them rounded out the state team as alternates.

“The ‘Eureka!’ moment occurred at the Wayne County meet when we had Ben lead off the relay as our backstroker for the first time,” said Coach Pickell. 

This decision clearly paid off in the end, as Ben also contested in the 100-yard backstroke at the league meet. After only his second time swimming the event all season, he finished a close second place with a time of 56.49, which was fast enough to seed him 12th in the state for Division 3. Ben also narrowly missed a state cut in the 100-yard freestyle, but still earned himself the title of league champ in the event.

“These boys were able to keep the 10-year streak alive of having Riverview represented at the state level,” said assistant coach Connor Harrison, who did his part in keeping the streak going as did coach Pickell during their time as student-athletes. 

Coach Pickell concluded by saying, “Senior Ardi Saraci should be proud to have been such a crucial part of the team for four years. Although his final season was cut short right at the end, he has led his teammates through an amazing journey to achieve the success they have.”

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