Middleton swimmers are chasing history

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Gabriela Pierobon Mays and Middleton’s girls swimming team begins its new season Friday at Madison East./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

This marks the 50th year that girls swimming has been a WIAA sport.

In that time, there have been just four occasions where a school has won at least four straight state championships. Amazingly, Madison West did it three times (1980-’83, 1989-’92 and 1995-’98) and Hartland Arrowhead did it once (2002-’06).

Middleton could join that elite club this season.

The Cardinals have won three straight state championships, including an inspiring performance last year in which they ran away from the field despite having a top-rated relay team disqualified at sectionals. Now, with a sensational group of returnees, a handful of improved swimmers and a gifted group of newcomers, Middleton is set to take aim at a fourth straight state championship.

The Cardinals open their 2019 season at Madison East Friday at 5 p.m.

“I think about it all the time,” Middleton coach Lauren Cabalka said of continuing the Cardinals’ historic run. “This has been an incredible run and something that doesn't happen often, but we've never been a team to live in the past.

“We will use everything we have learned from previous years and make adjustments where we need to as we put this puzzle together. These girls have already worked incredibly hard, which will make them a force as we move forward.”

The Cardinals have certainly been a force in recent years. And they’ll be the favorite to win another championship this season thanks to several returning standouts.

Senior Gabriela Pierobon Mays has been a huge part of Middleton’s three state title teams, and seems poised for a big final season.

Last year, Pierobon Mays was part of Middleton’s 200-medley relay team that was second at state, and was fourth in both the 100 butterfly and the 100 backstroke. Pierobon Mays won the 100 butterfly state titles in both 2016 and 2017, but was recovering from shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum last season.

“Gabby is coming into her senior year as confident as I have ever seen her,” Cabalka said. “She is calm, cool and collected and taking on a huge leadership role. We will rely on her out of the water as much as we do in the water. 

“Her talent speaks for itself, but she does not rely on it. She works incredibly hard to improve and knows that the key to her success lies within the team. She is the definition of a team player and I have no doubt that this will be her best season yet. I think she's going to surprise a lot of people, even herself.”

Senior Berkley Smith was sixth in the 50 freestyle at state last year. She was also on Middleton’s state champion 200 freestyle relay and the Cardinals’ state runner-up 200 medley relay.

“Berkley is another key returner, mainly in the sprint freestyle and relay events,” Cabalka said. “She was a vital piece of our puzzle last season and helped to take our relays to the next level. 

“She has emerged into an incredible leader, both in and out of the water, and we will look to her for guidance with our very young team. I expect her to play a large role in an area where we have some weakness and to be a valuable part of our relay teams as we work to build them back up.”

Senior Alex Anagnostopoulos is a three-year standout who was fourth at state in the 100 breaststroke and 14th in the 200 individual medley.

“Alex is an incredible swimmer who consistently steps up at big meets and when we need her most,” Cabalka said. “She works incredibly hard and sets huge goals, which I love. 

“She will continue to add depth to our breaststroke and IM events, which are strengths for us, and help to lead our younger swimmers forward. More than that, Alex is incredibly passionate and kind — two intangibles that every team needs.”

Junior Ally Silverstri was second in the 100 breaststroke, fourth in the 200 IM and was part of the Cardinals’ second place 200 medley relay team.

“Ally is one of the hardest working athletes I have ever coached,” Cabalka said. “She is incredibly mature, knows exactly where she is headed and how to get there. 

“She is our work horse and will play a huge role in showing our younger swimmers the ropes. She returns as one of the state’s top breaststrokers and IM’ers, but has also come a long way in her butterfly and backstroke events, making her incredibly versatile.”

Junior Maddy Lawn was 19th at state in the 200 individual medley and will take on a greater role this season.

“Maddy had a breakout season last year and gained a ton of confidence along the way,” Cabalka said. “She will be very valuable on our relays and in our sprint freestyle and IM events.”

Sophomore Amanda George had a big freshman season, highlighted by a 19th place finish at state in the 500 freestyle.

“Amanda was a pleasant surprise to us last season and made a name for herself in an event that has always been incredibly strong for us (distance freestyle),” Cabalka said. “She came back to us with a lot of confidence and an attitude of wanting to work hard, get better and motivate her teammates along the way. 

“We’ll be looking to her to lead our distance group this year. Those are some big shoes to fill, but I’m confident she will rise to the challenge.”

Junior Brianna Acker and sophomore Serena Haack also seem ready for bigger and better.

“Both of these girls moved up at the end of the season to swim at the varsity conference meet last season and did an incredible job,” Cabalka said. “Both of them worked incredibly hard in the off-season and came back to us improved and ready to take on this new challenge. We will look to Bri to add depth to our butterfly and relay events and to Serena in the breaststroke and IM.”

Freshman Sophie Benson shined during tryouts and could play a large role from day one.

“Sophie led the pack of freshmen and dropped some amazing time trials along the way,” Cabalka said. “We will be able to use her in pretty much every event, which makes her an incredible utility player.”

Freshmen Eva Anagnostopoulos, Natalie Charles and Abby Ensenberger will also contribute right away.

“These three will add a ton of value to our relay teams, and across the board, to all eight events,” Cabalka said. “If you would have watched these girls during our tryout week, you would have thought they were juniors and seniors by the way they carried themselves. We are so excited about this freshman class.”

Middleton graduated a sensational senior class, a group that lost just one meet in four years. That was the 2015 state meet, where the Cardinals finished second to Arrowhead.

Amazingly, Middleton hasn’t lost since — and the Cardinals expect much of the same in 2019.

“We lost an incredible group of seniors, no doubt,” Cabalka said. “Their talent and success was unmatched in the history of MHS swimming. While we can't replace their talent, we can build on what they left behind. We still have an incredibly strong team and are returning a ton of points from last year’s state meet. 

“The biggest hit will be on our freestyle relay teams, which we basically have to rebuild from scratch. But, I know these girls. I know their level of determination and their hearts and I have no doubt that they will write their own story and work to leave their own legacy behind. This senior class has never lost a meet. Don't expect them to give in just yet.”

No one does.

 

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