Middleton swimmers chasing greatness

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Dennis Semrau/For the Times-Tribune
Hannah Aegerter and Middleton's girls swimming team are gunning for a third straight state title./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

As the adage goes, nobody is perfect.

But don’t tell that to coach Lauren Cabalka and Middleton’s girls’ swimming team.

The two-time defending WIAA Division 1 state champion Cardinals are within reach of a third consecutive perfect season.

Cabalka said the Cardinals’ will to win is strong.

“This senior class, the only meet they lost was freshman year when they got second at state,” said Cabalka, who is in her ninth season as head coach. “They’ve won every other meet.”

Senior captain Hannah Aegerter, the team’s lone top seed at state, said Middleton won’t give up its championship hopes without a fight.

“It’s been amazing,” Aegerter said of the unbeaten streak. “It’s just crazy how much we’ve grown as a team, especially for us seniors. We’re taking it all in. We will be sad to leave all the success that we’ve had.”

Aegerter, who has verbally committed to swim at the University of Illinois, is seeded first in the 200-yard freestyle and second in the 500 freestyle. She is also on the 200-yard freestyle relay that is seeded second.

Like the rest of her senior teammates, Aegerter is hoping to go out on top.

“What always helps us is that we don’t always go in with the greatest seeds,” she said. “But I believe in our team, and we always swim our best at state. We go out and race people and move up.”

Amazingly, though, there was no talk during the season of the Cardinals’ goal of another state championship.

“We don’t even talk about state until today at our meeting,” Cabalka said on Monday. “We’ve always been a program always focusing on the week, never getting ahead of ourselves.

“It’s a similar looking team to last year. We knew we had the depth and the number to replace the seniors we lost. What we can’t control is other teams are a lot better than they were last year. We were pretty dominant last year, which was a testament to the girls and how strong we were.”

The Cardinals’ perfect 2018 season came close to ending when Middleton finished just five points ahead of Big Eight Conference rival Sun Prairie at last week’s Middleton Sectional meet. Middleton’s 400 freestyle relay team, which was expected to compete for a state title, was disqualified due to a false start.

“It was definitely pretty scary to almost lose that on Saturday on something we really couldn’t control,” junior captain Gabriela Pierobon Mays said.

But Pierobon Mays said that will just be one more obstacle for the Cardinals to overcome as they chase down their dreams of a third straight unbeaten state championship season.

“It was hard, but luckily we have such a deep team,” Pierobon Mays said. “We were lucky it didn’t have to come down to one race. We were still able to pull out a win on Saturday.”

In the pre-state meet rankings, based on seeds, Cedarburg (194) is ranked first and Middleton (191.5) is second. Sun Prairie (163), Hartland Arrowhead (158) and Stevens Point (155) round out the top five.

But the Cardinals have been in this position before.

“We were picked to get second by eight points last year,” Pierobon Mays said. “That hit us harder because all season long in every meet we were seeded first. Then we go to state and we’re seeded second. It took us all week last year leading up to state to realize we could do that.

“When we got to state, every single girl knew what they needed to do, knew what they wanted to do for that win and we got it. This year, 2 ½ points is nothing. That comes down to a single place, fourth or fifth or 10th or 11th.”

Cabalka agreed.

“We have one top seed, so everyone else could move up,” she said. “We had only one girl tapered at sectionals. All of them will be tapered for this. Theoretically, we should be faster. We took that risk and made it.”

Middleton cruised to its second straight state championship a year ago, finishing with 313.5 points. Cedarburg was runner-up with 242 points, while Arrowhead came in third place with 189 points.
Middleton’s scoring received a boost from one individual champion and a pair of relay champions. Pierobon Mays successfully defended her title in the 100 butterfly. The Cardinals also won the 200-yard medley relay and repeated as champions in the 200 freestyle relay.

But after recovering from shoulder surgery on Feb. 26 for a torn labrum in her right shoulder, Pierobon Mays knows she will have a battle on her hands to repeat in her signature event.

“I swam OK at sectionals, but it wasn’t as great as it could have been, should have been,” said Pierobon Mays, who will also compete in the backstroke on the 200 medley relay and is seeded ninth in the 100 backstroke.

“I’m seeded 10th overall and in the second heat in the 100 fly. So I won’t be in the fastest heat. But I’ve got a lane. I’ve got a chance. I’ll try to go as fast as I can and do what I can.”

That attitude is what drives the Cardinals toward their annual goal of a state championship.

Middleton qualified 10 swimmers for 17 swims, including two relays.

“We are represented by each class and across the board in all events except for the 400 freestyle relay,” Cabalka said. “Our depth in talent is as deep as it’s ever been. We had girls who tapered for the JV conference meet who could have been on our state team. We have some amazing depth.”

The Cardinals’ hopes of a third consecutive state title will rest on seniors Aegerter, Makenna Licking and Cora Mack — an Illinois State recruit — as well as juniors Alex Anagnostopoulos and Pierobon Mays, who all were on both state title teams. Senior Emily Keebler, junior captain Berkley Smith and sophomore Ally Silvestri were on last year’s state title team, while sophomore Madelyn Lawn and freshman Amanda George are making their state debut.

“Honestly, it’s been a team effort,” Smith said. “It’s not just about you. It’s just not about any one girl. It’s about the whole team. One person’s success is the whole team’s success.”

Smith will compete on the 200 medley, which is seeded fifth, 200 freestyle relay and in the 50 freestyle, where she is seeded 12th.

While the last team to win at least three consecutive Division 1 state titles was Arrowhead, which strung together five in a row from 2002-2006, Smith likes the Cardinals’ chances at an unbeaten threepeat.

“We really take it one meet at a time like we take one practice at a time,” Smith said. “I don’t focus on anything else, but what I’m doing in the pool. We’re excited it’s the last week of the season and we get to swim at state.”

Cabalka said unlike the past two seasons, the Cardinals will be only be spectators for the meet’s final event — the 400 freestyle relay.

“It puts us in a weird place where we’re not in control of our destiny at the end,” she said. “After the breaststroke is over, we have to sit there and watch. If we’re 40 points up going into it, we’re good. It’s a tight race.

“It just hurts. That 400 relay was our best relay. It’s hard to think maybe we could have won that.”

Cabalka, though, said the Cardinals prefer to deal with what they can control.

“I know these girls, and I know how badly they want to go out on top,” Cabalka said. “They’ve created this really great tradition. They’ve created a legacy and a name for themselves. They certainly want it.”




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