SPASH girls swimming aims to make history at State Meet
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) girls swimming team will look to bring home a State Title for the first time, when it competes at state this weekend.
The Panthers won the Sectional Title at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln Saturday, Nov. 3, to send three relay teams and individuals in nine events to the WIAA Division 1 State Meet at the University of Wisconsin Natatorium in Madison at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10.
“We got three relays and seven individuals last year, and you always want to get better, but last year was going to be a hard season to beat,” said SPASH girls swimming head coach Courtney McMurrain. “All of our girls that we qualified are in the Top 16, which essentially means they’re all seeded within scoring range.
“And it’s exciting as a coach to see their progression, because all of them have improved since last season,” she said.
After going unbeaten in Wisconsin Valley Conference (WVC) dual meets this season and winning the WVC Meet Oct. 25 to claim its third consecutive Conference Title, SPASH looked to advance a large contingent of swimmers to state at the Wisconsin Rapids Sectional Saturday.
Senior Kennedy Gilbertson won the 100 freestyle in 52.01 seconds to beat sophomore Sara Mayer of D.C. Everest (53.85) and earn a trip to state as an individual for the third year in a row.
Gilbertson also won the 100 backstroke in 55.49 seconds over sophomore Kate Augustyn of Eau Claire Memorial (59.49), as she enters the State Meet with the top-seeded time in the 100 freestyle and the second-seeded time in the 100 backstroke.
“I didn’t really want to do the 100 freestyle but I went up there and I did it, and I got a best time, so it was very exciting,” said Gilbertson. “And then I got in the 100 backstroke very confidently, because I’m a backstroker, and it was very exciting to see my time drop, because I haven’t dropped time in a while.
“And I was very, very happy to go back,” she said.
“Kennedy had an amazing Sectional Meet,” said McMurrain. “She’s also on our 200 medley and 400 free relay, which are both seeded really well, and we’re expecting really good things out of her on Saturday.”
After being out this summer and the early part of this season due to an injury, senior and NCAA Division 1 Northern Iowa recruit Casey Summers advanced to state for the second year in a row as an individual when she won the 50 freestyle in 24.33 seconds, and also qualified in the 100 butterfly after she placed second.
“Making it to state this year really means a lot to me, because I lost about three months of good training that I thought was going to be able to put me ahead this season, so I came in really behind,” said Summers. “And the fact that I’m still able to make it and be seeded better than I was last year means more than I can put into words.
“Last year I was lucky enough to be able to win the 50 free (at Sectionals), and then I was able to repeat that this year, which I was really excited about,” she said. “And this year I was able to drop a lot more time in the 100 fly than I ever thought I would be able to, I’m seeded eighth going into state, and last year I was seeded last in the 500, so that is a really crazy feeling.”
Meanwhile, senior Anna Vandehey won the 100 butterfly in 56.89 seconds over Summers (57.26) to earn her second trip to state as an individual.
“To get first place is always exciting, and to know that I will be going back and get the chance to compete in such a fun meet,” said Vandehey. “I personally hope that I can make the podium this year, Top 6, because I was just off last year, I took seventh in the 100 fly.”
A State Qualifier in Pennsylvania in each of the last two years, SPASH junior Alaina Breitbach won the 200 IM in 2:08.52 to advance to the WIAA State Meet for the first time as an individual.
Breitbach also qualified in the 100 breaststroke after she finished third in 105.56 behind junior Ella Stein of Hudson (1:05.17) and sophomore Faith Eilertson of Hudson (1:05.48).
“It was really exciting in the 200 IM when I touched the wall first and dropped a little bit of time,” said Breitbach. “It was a big deal for me, and I think it will be fun to be in that second heat and have a chance to race those girls.
“The 100 breaststroke was a little disappointing finishing the way I did, but I’m excited to have another chance to be in that last heat on Saturday and be able to race those girls,” she said. “But it’s been exciting to be a part of a team as good as our SPASH girls team is this year, it’s been really fun to get to know the girls and to make all of these new friends in such a short amount of time, and coach has been great.”
Sophomore Sydney Hoff finished second in the 200 freestyle (1:54.99) and was second in the 500 freestyle (5:11.27) to qualify in both events and advance to state for the first time as an individual, after she competed there in the 200 medley relay last year.
“I never expected to go in two events this year, and I never thought that I’d become a distance swimmer,” said Hoff. “Originally I’m a breaststroker, and just starting those two events this year and making state in them was crazy.
“I ended up dropping five seconds from my season best in the 200 free, and I was just so excited making it to state, because it’s so competitive,” she said. “And I ended up dropping 10 seconds from my season best in the 500, and that really made me happy.”
The Panthers also dominated in the relays, as Gilbertson, Breitbach, Vandehey and junior Alli Scharbarth teamed up to win the 200 medley relay in the first swimming event of the Sectional.
“Our medley relay is seeded third, and I think we have a good shot to win state,” said Breitbach. “So that one is a big one for us.”
“It just aligned perfectly this year with us gaining Alaina, but we just have some of the best in the state in each stroke,” said Vandehey. “And I’m just really excited to have all of us working together again at state, to try to really win that relay this year.”
Vandehey, sophomore Sophie Emerson, Hoff and Summers combined to win the 200 freestyle relay at the Sectional; while Vandehey, Summers, Breitbach and Gilbertson teamed up to win the 400 freestyle relay.
In the end, SPASH finished with 398 points to win its second consecutive Sectional Title ahead of D.C. Everest (336.5), Hudson (325) and Eau Claire Memorial (290.5).
“We won our JV Conference, we ended up winning our Conference Meet as well, and then winning Sectionals again without a diving team is a huge accomplishment,” said Summers. “We’ve all gotten along so well and I’ve gotten so close with all of these girls, it’s going to be really sad to see this season end, but I’m really thankful for what it has been.”
McMurrain said that it’s a great group of girls that are heading to state, and that they’re ready to get down to Madison and swim fast.
“My goals for this weekend is to get first in the 100 freestyle, because I’m ranked first, and for the backstroke, to get second,” said Gilbertson. “Wherever my seed is, I just want to either get it or above it, and I want the relays to place on the podium.”
“I personally would love to walk away with some kind of state win,” said McMurrain. “Our medley team is third right now, and we’re only like half-a-second away from the No. 1 seed, and then Kennedy with her seeds. And it’s really anyone’s game at state.
“That’s never come out of this program before, an individual or a relay win (at state), so that would be pretty cool,” she said. “And we placed fifth overall last year, so to improve on that or to maintain fifth would be really awesome, because we’re going up against a lot of big schools in big cities, so for us from central Wisconsin, it’s a pretty big deal.”