The Blue Water Otters are about to kick off a new season and they’re bringing plenty of momentum along with them.
After an exciting 2021-22 season that ended with state championships and plenty of other state-leading performances, this youth swim team at the YMCA of the Blue Water Area has returned ready for more.
The Otters program had been around for decades and was recently brought back to life after a two-year hiatus.
“I was swimming here one day and they stopped me and asked if I would coach and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’” coach Maggie MacKenzie said.
MacKenzie was a Division I collegiate swimmer and had moved to the area several years ago as a college professor. This season marks her seventh at the helm of the program, and last year was the first time one of her teams had won a trophy.
“That was my first trophy ever. It was ‘otterly’ fantastic,” MacKenzie said with a laugh. “It was overwhelming, inspiring, and just a great feeling because they worked so hard.”
The Otters compete in two seasons throughout the year, one from November to March and another from May to July. At the end of their fall-winter season, they competed at the Michigan YMCA 9-and-Over State Championship for which 13 swimmers qualified.
Leading the group was Sena Baldwin, 14, the state champion in the boys 1,000-yard freestyle.
“I was excited and it felt good. It felt great to have the hard work pay off,” Baldwin said, who has been swimming for five years.
Baldwin then joined his teammates Stephen Ruiz, Ayden Cross, and Lucas Johnson for the 200-yard freestyle and 200-yard medley relays in which they placed seventh and ninth, respectively.
Stephen Ruiz, 14, was another top-10 finisher for the Otters, placing eighth in both the 200-yard IM and the 200-yard backstroke, and his brother Johnathon Ruiz, 12, finished seventh in the 200-yard breaststroke.
Lina Baldwin, 18, led the girls team with a fourth-place finish in the 1,000 free, along with 12th-place finishes in the 200 free and 200 medley relays.
After brining home several honors from the state meet in March, the Otters got back to work to train for the JAWS State Games at the Jennison High School Aquatics Center in late July.
There, they earned several more titles:
Stephen Ruiz, 14, won the 100-meter breast, the 200-meter IM, and the 200-meter breast. His younger brother Johnathon, 12, won the 50-meter and 200-meter breast. Sena Baldwin also picked up a win in the 400-meter free.
But more than these trophies and accomplishments, the Otters said they just enjoy swimming and being together at practices and meets.
“Sometimes we goof around and talk more than we practice, but we do practice hard and push each other to go faster,” Lina Baldwin said. “I like the social aspect, being a team, having fun, and cheering each other on.”
“They’re always together. At meets, no one sits off by themselves,” MacKenzie said. “They’re always playing or drawing or making up games with each other, so they’re pretty fun.”
A majority of the team has been together for five or more years, giving the program a fun, family-like atmosphere.
“We’ve known each other for a while, ever since we started, and I think we all just have something in common with swimming,” Stephen Ruiz said.
And that’s exactly what made last year’s success so meaningful for MacKenzie.
“A handful of them started with me when I started…so it’s really neat to see them come all the way through,” MacKenzie said. “It’s their hard work and dedication. They show up and work hard all of the time. They have beautiful strokes and a great attitude and I think that helps.”
RESULTS FROM THE MICHIGAN YMCA 9-AND-OVER STATE MEET:
Sena Baldwin (Boys 13-and-under) – 1st in 1,000 Free and 16th in 500 Free
Baldwin, Johnson, Cross, Ruiz (Boys 13-14) – 7th in 200 Free Relay
Johnson, Baldwin, Ruiz, Cross (Boys 13-14) – 9th in 200 Medley Relay
Baldwin, Bockhausen, Kellog, Mills (Girls 15-and-over) – 12th in 200 Free Relay
Baldwin, Bockhausen, Kellog, Mills (Girls 15-and-over) – 12th in 200 Medley Relay
Lina Baldwin (Girls 15-and-over) – 4th in 1,000 Free
Ayden Cross (Boys 13-14) – 12th in 200 IM
Johnathon Ruiz (Boys 11-12 ) – 7th in 200 Breast
Stephen Ruiz (Boys 13-14) – 8th in 200 IM, 8th in 200 Back, 10th in 200 Breast; and 12th in 100 Breast
RESULTS FROM THE JAWS STATE GAMES:
Lina Bladwin (Women’s 13-and-over) – 2nd in 1500-meter Free; 3rd in 200-meter Back; 5th in 100-meter Breast; 5th in 200-meter IM; 5th in 200-meter Breast; 8th in 100-meter Back; 9th in 50-meter Free; and 16th in 100-meter Free
Sena Baldwin (Men’s 13-and-over) – 1st in 400-meter Free; 2nd in 200-meter Breast; 2nd in 100-meter Breast; 3rd in 200-meter Fly; 3rd in 400-meter Free; 5th in 200-meter Back; 5th in 200-meter IM; and 8th in 100-meter Free
Charlotte O'Brien (Women’s 13-and-over) – 6th in 200-meter Breast and 8th in 400-meter Free
Johnathon Ruiz (Boys 12-and-under) – 1st in 50-meter Breast; 1st in 200-meter Breast; 2nd in 50-meter Fly; 3rd in 400-meter Free; and 4th in 100-meter Back
Ryan Ruiz placed (Boys 10-and-under) – 2nd in 100-meter Breast; 5th in 50-meter Free; 5th in 100-meter Free; 6th in 50-meter Breast; and 9th in 50-meter Back
Stephen Ruiz (Men’s 13-and-over) – 1st in 100-meter Breast; 1st in 200-meter IM; 1st in 200-meter Breast; 2nd in 200-meter Fly; 2nd in 100-meter Back; and 3rd in 200-meter Back
For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli
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