Swimmers sixth at state

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Gregg Hammill/For the Times-Tribune
Gabriela Pierobon Mays (right) helped Middleton’s girls swimming team finish sixth at the state meet last Saturday.

Throughout the season, Middleton’s girls swimming and diving team has dealt with more than its share of adversity.

But the Cardinals never gave up.

They kept fighting and capped their season with another terrific performance at the WIAA Division 1 state swimming and diving championship at the UW Natatorium last Saturday.

Leaning on its seniors, Middleton earned a sixth-place finish with 143 points. Brookfield East finished with 243 points and ended the Cardinals’ three-year championship reign. Hartland Arrowhead placed second with 220 points followed by Sun Prairie (212.50), Muskego (192) and Waukesha South/Mukwonago (146).

“It was a pretty crazy year just considering I really don’t think we had a full week of having our full team there until this past week,” senior Gabriela Pierobon Mays said. “Girls were fighting illnesses and all these different things, but considering how we swam today, we clearly didn’t let up a single time and the girls kept fighting all the way to the end.”

“We’ve really had our ups and downs this season, but I think every single challenge has made us stronger and we’ve come back even stronger every single time,” added senior Berkley Smith.

The Cardinals did it with a young lineup that included three seniors, a pair of juniors, four sophomores and two freshmen.

“These girls it’s a really young squad and most of them have never been in this setting before and I’m just so proud of the way they held it together,” Middleton coach Lauren Cabalka said. “They acted like veteran swimmers. None of them lost their cool, none of them lost their head and that was our senior leaders. They just stepped up big time and set the gold standard for leadership and just took us through this.”

One of those seniors was Gabriela Pierobon Mays who stepped up to capture third place in the 100-yard backstroke in 54.74 seconds while swimming the second heat in the event.

“Our goal going into that is like, ‘Gabby, post a time that scares them,’” Cabalka said. “That’s your job, be in your lane, be in your zone, post a time that scares them and she sure did that.”

For Pierobon Mays it was another sign that she’s fully recovered from the shoulder surgery she had back in February of 2018 to repair a torn labrum.

“I was 10th coming into the race this weekend and my backstroke is something I’ve really been able to work on this year considering I’m just finally over that hump of just really trying to get back to where I was before my surgery,” Pierobon Mays said. “The fact that I was 5/100s off of my best time ever, I got out of that pool and I just kind of fell into Lauren’s arms and we both started crying.

“It was just full of emotions and then, all of sudden, I was third and it felt like all of my hard work had been paid off. I did what I needed to do for my team to move up and get us those points. I was done to say the least. I was so happy, I was on top of the world.”

Added Cabalka: “Last year was a recovery year for her and to see her back to where we knew she was capable of being was just something special and really fun. She didn’t know if she’d ever get back there, and she is just pure grit. You watch her swim, that girl, the last 15 yards of her race it’s like she just flips a different switch and it’s awesome.”

Pierobon Mays also competed for the first time in the 50-yard freestyle at state and had a fourth-place finish in 23.55 beating her seed time of 23.80.

“She’s the type of swimmer that’s like, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do,’” Cabalka said. “Sometimes I have to talk to her and say, ‘No, what do you want to do, it’s your senior year.’ And she’s just like, ‘Honestly I’ll do whatever you need.’ She’s just that kind of swimmer. It was so fun to watch her today with that smile on her face.”

Smith produced a pair of 10th-place finishes in the 50-yard freestyle in 24.28 and 100-yard freestyle in 53.04, but it was her performance in the 200-yard freestyle relay that turned heads. Smith anchored the relay and helped the squad which included sophomores Ella Needham and Abby Utter and junior Kaitlyn Peters to a fourth-place finish in 1:36.59.

That quartet was in fifth place when Smith hit the water. She quickly moved up to fourth then put pressure down the stretch on Arrowhead’s Megan Lucyshyn and Waukesha South/Mukwonago’s Ashley George in a battle for second before just getting touched out at the wall.

“It really came down to the last couple of lengths and our team worked so hard and I’m so proud of all of us,” Smith said. “I really just tried to put my head down and finish my last length of high school swimming as hard as I possibly could.”

Added Cabalka: “She’s our relay queen. On that relay start she’ll take it to a different level. She is rock solid. For four years we’ve been able to count on her at the end of a relay knowing exactly what we’re going to get. And often times pleasantly surprised at what we get.”

The Cardinals got a pair of fifth-place finishes from their 200-yard medley relay of Smith, senior Alex Anagnostopoulos, Pierobon Mays and junior Madelyn Lawn in 1:46.94 and 400-yard freestyle relay of Pierobon Mays, Peters, Utter and Needham in 3:30.51.

Anagnostopoulos recorded a 12th-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke in 1:06.12 after qualifying 23rd in 1:07.28. Peters improved on her seed times in both the 100-yard butterfly and the 200-yard freestyle while placing 14th in 57.40 and 16th in 1:55.83, respectively.

“Kaitlyn Peters was phenomenal,” Cabalka said. “She’s been underrated and the last two years and has not finished the way she’s wanted to. She surprised the heck out of herself today and swam exactly the way we knew she was capable of swimming. She had a special day and it was fun to see her smile like that.”

Middleton was well represented in the 500-yard freestyle with sophomores Molly Haag and Amanda George and freshman Sophie Benson. Haag finished 14th in 5:09.94, George took 21st in 5:16.02 and Benson placed 23rd in 5:17.82.

Also for the Cardinals, Needham finished 17th in the 100-yard freestyle in 53.30 and 19th in the 200-yard freestyle in 57.05; Lawn took 19th in the 200-yard individual medley in 2:10.78; freshman Natalie Charles placed 22nd in the 200-yard individual medley in 2:12.01; and Utter finished 23rd in the 100-yard freestyle in 53.91.

Cabalka pointed out that this Cardinals squad was able to accomplish one thing none of the state championship teams did – they qualified all of their swimmers that competed at sectionals.

“Every person that swam at sectionals qualified through and that’s really cool,” Cabalka said.

Cabalka also expressed how proud she was of her team.

“I told them this morning, regardless of what happens tonight, you guys got through this season of everything that can be thrown at you with class and dignity and poise and I’m just super proud of the way they’ve handled themselves,” Cabalka said. “It’s not easy to be a team that’s been very good for a long time and not only to deal with that, but then all of the things that the season threw at us and they — without missing a beat — were phenomenal.”

Pierobon Mays, who will be attending Vanderbilt next year, couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out.

“Throughout the season we have been tested more than we’ve ever been tested,” Pierobon Mays said. “Every year it seems like they just keep throwing things at us, but I never would have asked for a better group of girls to end this with. They are the classiest, most confident, most grounded, most humble, most amazing girls I’ve ever had the chance to be with.

“I am really good friends with all of them. And so, just to think that I won’t be back here next year, it brings me to tears. You know I love these girls, they’re my family and I just can’t imagine a better ending than ending this with them and all of us fighting because we did this year. We fought and especially we were fighting for Bob Joers, our AD, because he has cancer so I think he’d be proud. We finished it off fighting, now the ball’s in his court to fight it.”

 

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