Girls swimmers gunning for repeat

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Cora Mack and Middleton’s girls swimming team will try defending their state title this fall./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Nearly 10 months after the most memorable girls swimming season in Middleton history came to a close, Lauren Cabalka still gets goose bumps.

Cabalka, the Cardinals’ head coach and a former standout in the program, guided Middleton to its first-ever WIAA Division 1 state title last November.

Now, even as Middleton prepares to begin its new season Friday at Sun Prairie at 5 p.m., the memories of 2016 aren't far away. They provide joy, laughter and a model for how to become a champion.

“I don't think you can put a season like that into words,” Cabalka said. “When I look back, I think about how special it really was and how incredibly difficult it is to remain unbeaten in a conference like ours as well as throughout the state. 

“Our girls had a goal from day one and never lost sight of that goal. It was so fun to watch them grow and improve, week after week, and to see them handle the pressure with such poise and class. It will certainly remain an unforgettable season and one we will work incredibly hard to match.”

Here’s the rub: the Cardinals will have every chance to match last season’s success and perhaps even win in more convincing fashion than they did a year ago.

Middleton returns several of its most talented simmers from that state championship team. The Cardinals also welcome an extremely gifted, seven-person freshman class that should contribute from day one.

“I can’t say that we are a ‘favorite,’ ” Cabalka said. “I can say that we have the majority of our key players back — some of them, stronger than ever. We certainly have our work cut out for us.”

Junior Cora Mack is one of the Cardinals’ top returnees. Mack was a key member of Middleton’s 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams that both won state championships.

Mack also finished second in the 100-yard freestyle and was third in the 50-yard freestyle.

“Cora returns as our top sprinter,” Cabalka said. “She stepped up huge last season and filled a major gap in our sprint freestyle events.”

Senior Caroline Hippen was also a key cog on Middleton’s state champion 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams. Hippen was also sixth at state in the 100 and 200-meter freestyles.

“C.J. returns as an integral part of our lineup this season,” Cabalka said. “We will look for C.J. to lead a young squad with her experience and maturity.”

Sophomore Gabriela Pierobon Mays had a memorable freshman season in which she won a state championship in the 100-meter butterfly and was third in the 100-meter backstroke. Pierobon Mays anchored Middleton’s state champion 400-meter freestyle relay team and was on the runner-up 200-meter medley relay team.

“Gabby came to us last season as one of the state's top swimmers,” Cabalka said. “We knew what we were getting with her in the water, but did not anticipate the maturity that she would enter with as a freshman. 

“Gabby has incredible talents, in and out of the water, and she will certainly be looking to capitalize on those this season. I will also be looking to her to lead by example and through her experience with the young team we have.”

Junior Hannah Aegerter had a breakout sophomore season in which she was part of Middleton’s two state championship relay teams. Aegerter also finished second individually in the 200-meter freestyle and was fourth in the 500-meter freestyle.

“Hannah had a breakout season last year,” Cabalka said. “She gained a lot of confidence last season and I am looking forward to watching her utilize that confidence from the very start this season.”

If that group of returnees wasn’t enough, the Cardinals welcome in a deep and extremely gifted freshman class.

Freshman Ally Silvestri is one of the state’s top breaststrokers and figures to specialize in the 100 breast and the 200 IM.

“I am already incredibly impressed with her maturity and the way she attacks each practice,” Cabalka said of Silverstri. “She arrives each day with the purpose of improving and takes advantage of every opportunity to do so.

“She has a great attitude and is highly coachable. She will fill gaps in our IM and will add to our depth in breaststroke.”

Freshman Bella Chirafisi should also make an immediate contribution in the 200 freestyle and the 500 freestyle.

“We lost a lot of our depth in distance free and Bella will fill an immediate spot there,” Cabalka said. “She has already shown great potential as a member of our distance group and will help to refuel points we lost in that area. 

“She has an incredible work ethic and has set some great goals for herself. Her maturity and experience will serve her and our team well this season.”

The Big Eight remains the state’s toughest conference and teams like Verona/Mount Horeb (second), Madison West (fifth), Sun Prairie (sixth) and Madison Memorial (10th) all cracked the top-10 at state a year ago. This year could be more of the same.

“The Big 8 looks strong, as always,” Cabalka said. “Many schools got some key returnees, as well as a very strong freshmen class. 

“We will have to focus and work incredibly hard if we want to repeat as conference champions. It gets harder every year, but we are excited to see what all of the teams look like and to have a strong representation at the state meet this year from the Big Eight.”

Arrowhead might be the Cardinals’ greatest challenger to a second straight state title. But Middleton is the clear-cut favorite to repeat, and Cabalka is expecting another memorable year from her team.

“I think our girls will set themselves up for success if they keep their eyes on our goals each week, stay grounded in who we are and what we stand for, and above all else, have fun,” Cabalka said. “If we lose the fun and let the pressure get to us, success will be hard to find. 

“So far, they are handling our always high expectations very well. When they come to practice and leave practice each day with smiles on their faces, we know we're in a good place.” 


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