WIAA DIV. 2 GIRLS SWIMMING
After uncertain start, season ends on a high
Southern Wisconsin’s losses became northern Wisconsin’s gains in determining the field for the WIAA Division 2 girls state swim meet with the Medford Raiders being one of the teams benefiting from the unusual 2020 season.
Knocking on wood this week that everyone stays healthy, the Raiders are sending five entries to Friday’s championship meet at Waukesha South High School, the program’s highest number in recent memory. Three of the five entries will swim in the second or “fast” heat of their events, offering realistic belief that multiple top-six medals are within reach.
The Raiders and the rest of this year’s qualifiers are taking advantage of the absence of several Division 2 powerhouse programs from this fall’s competition. Teams like five-time defending state champion Madison Edgewood, McFarland, Ashwaubenon and DeForest opted out of fall competition and won’t be there.
Friday’s meet starts at 6 p.m. with limited fan attendance.
Those who are swimming Friday certainly aren’t apologizing for making it as there was nothing easy about staying healthy and working around COVID issues.
“It’s not ideal, but hey we made it,” head coach Betsy Meinel said Monday. “We just have to make it a couple more days and we’ll get there. When the girls found out (about qualifying), they were all saying something good came out of COVID. This is a shining moment for us. We’re going to have this memory and be able to say, ‘look at what we were able to do with limited resources.’ I mean, we had maybe two weeks where everyone was here.”
The qualifying crew features state veterans Erin Bergman, Morgan Ball and Kami Razink and first-timers Lacey Brandner and Aiden Denzer. Sophomore Kirsten Weix and freshman Colby Bergman will make the trip as relay alternates.
Erin Bergman is making her fourth state appearance in the 100-yard backstroke and her second in the 100-yard freestyle. Ball earned her first individual qualification in the 100-yard butterfly. Denzer joins the veterans in the 200-yard medley relay, while Brandner leads off for the statebound 400-yard freestyle relay. Medford’s five entries were all among the top 12 non-winning times posted statewide during Saturday’s four Division 2 sectionals.
The sectional meet took on a different look Saturday. Instead of all 13 schools packed into one facility, the WIAA split them into two sites –– Medford and Rhinelander –– and then combined the times. The Medford site turned into a five-team event when Mosinee pulled out that morning.
“We definitely knew that we had to continue pushing ourselves at this sectional because of the other sectional that was going to be combined with us,” Bergman said. “We knew that even if we were up ahead here, there’s always going to be people faster than us in Rhinelander.”
That turned out to be the case as only two sectional champions came out from the Medford side. They were Faith Forsberg of Rice Lake in the 50-yard freestyle and Madeline Bunton of the Ladysmith Co-op in the 500-yard freestyle.
“It was interesting,” Meinel said. “Do I want to do it again? No. If we have to, yeah. I missed that camaraderie. I missed seeing all those swimmers that you see all season and you don’t get to see how they finish. We won’t even get to see them on Friday because we’ll be ushered in for our events and ushered back out, unless they’re in ours. But that’s OK. We made it.”
Making it to state is certainly nothing new for Bergman. After her four events Friday, she will conclude her Medford swim career with 12 state swims, seven individually and five in relays. Most notably, she’s shooting for a fourth medal in her signature event, the 100-yard backstroke. She’s finished sixth at state the past two years and was fourth as a freshman in 2017. The St. Cloud State-bound Bergman was third in the sectional with a season-best time of 59.6 seconds behind Rhinelander’s Malia Francis (55.87) and Lisa Kennedy (59.51).
“Honestly I’m just happy to be going to state this year,” Bergman said. “If I wouldn’t have been able to go because of COVID it would’ve been really sad. I knew going into it my goal was to get a good seed so I could be in the last heat at state.”
Based on sectional times, Bergman is the fifth seed in the state’s backstroke field. Francis is the favorite. On Friday, Bergman will get one last shot to lower her school record of 58.53, which she set at the state meet in Madison in 2018.
“I definitely need to work on my turns and my underwaters this week,” she said. “I know that’s been some of the best things for the past couple of years with me are my turns and underwater, but this year they’re just off. I haven’t been able to fix it. I’m really going to have to work on it this week.”
The 100-yard freestyle appearance will be Bergman’s first at state. In previous years, she’s swam in the 200-yard freestyle as a sophomore and the 200-yard individual medley as a freshman, finishing 10th in both. Her sectional time was 55.3 seconds, good for fifth place. The sectional sent nine swimmers to state in the event, led by Rhinelander freshman Abi Winnicki (53.43). Bergman is the eighth seed in the state race.
“Last year I missed out on the 100 free by one place,” Bergman said. “This year, even though my time wasn’t as fast as it was last year (a school-record 54.62), I’m still in right now. I know I can drop time in that too, just based on my turns and underwaters.”
Ball, who plans to swim collegiately next year at the University of Minnesota-Morris, earned one of the team’s surprise state berths, according to Meinel. But it’s a deserving one for the senior co-captain, who nearly hit her school record in the 100-yard butterfly with a sixth-place time of 1:02.72. Ball got the last state-qualifying spot and is seeded 15th in the state field of 16.
“Just getting in individually in my senior year is a big thing,” Ball said. “I’ve always wanted to go to state individually, especially in the 100 fly. I’m just really excited and really pumped.”
Francis won Saturday’s sectional title in 56.58 seconds, followed by Wausau East’s Emma Clifford (58.75), Rhinelander’s Karis Francis (1:01.51), Lakeland’s Naomi Hamerla (1:01.85) and Rice Lake’s Clara Stinson (1:02.49).
“It felt really good,” Ball said of Saturday’s race. “My stroke felt good. I just felt really good in the pool. Having Clara Stinson next to me I just felt really fast.”
Ball said she’s excited to get one last shot at lowering her school record of 1:02.15 set at last year’s sectional at Wisconsin Rapids.
“The goal is to break the record and to get under 1:02 is a big goal as well,” Ball said.
Meinel knew it would be a good day at the sectional when the 200-yard medley team opened the meet with a seasonbest 1:54.07, a time that’s just behind last year’s school record of 1:53.66, set at the sectional. Last year, Bergman, Faith Piller, Ball and Razink placed 16th at state. This year, with Bergman swimming the backstroke leg, Denzer taking over the breaststroke spot, Ball swimming the butterfly and Razink in the freestyle spot, the Raiders are seeded sixth in the fast heat.
“Even last year, we knew we’d be set this year with Aiden for our breaststroke,” Bergman said. “We knew it was going to be close, getting the same time too as last year. I think at state we have a decent chance of dropping more time in that.”
Denzer, a sophomore, said it was a smooth transition slipping into the team’s breaststroke spot.
“I’ve been going after Erin in a medley for awhile now,” she said. “So it wasn’t really that hard to get her down. It’s been interesting I would say. I get along with them all pretty well.”
“I think that we each have something we can improve on Friday at state,” Bergman said. “I know my turn was off (Saturday) on my backstroke.”
“I know all season I was just counting on being able to go to state with Erin and Morgan again just because it’s their senior year,” said Razink, a junior. “We weren’t really sure how our season was going to end, if we were even going to be able to have a sectional. So that was just really awesome.”
Brandner, a junior, didn’t fully take over Piller’s spot in the 400-yard freestyle until October. Then she missed the Oct. 22 virtual Great Northern Conference meet while being quarantined.
“It felt pretty good, then I was pretty sad that I couldn’t swim at conference,” she said. “I was sad for that because I knew I wanted to get my time down before sectionals. But I didn’t have that chance again. It ended up working out though I guess.”
Brandner, Razink, Ball and Bergman finished fifth in the sectional in 3:54.46. Seven sectional teams made it, led by Rhinelander’s time of 3:43.33. The Raiders admit their time probably wouldn’t have made the cut in a normal year, but they think they can do some damage at state, where they are seeded 12th.
“I think we’ll really bring our A-game on Friday to try to drop that time,” Razink said.
One of the strangest things about the 2020 season was the uncertainty about how it would end. The WIAA didn’t announce there would be sectional and state meets until early October, so teams were unsure of how to approach their workouts and taper regimen. The Raiders believe they took the right plan and their taper will hold Friday.
“I think when they decided that we were going to have a conference meet was when we thought, OK, sectionals and state is definitely on the table right now for us,” Bergman said.
“I didn’t even think we were going to have a conference meet honestly,” Denzer said.
“Every day we got to practice, it was like, well we made it another day,” Brandner said. “We have to stay healthy this week.”
“No one really knew,” Meinel said. “We all kind of gambled. We all talked as a team and we asked, ‘what do you want to gamble on?’ It was sectionals. Had it ended at conference, we would’ve been bummed. But, it worked out well.”
Grateful for the season they wound up having, the girls are ready to give it their all one last time.
“This year has been a whole lot of fun with everybody,” Bergman said. “There’s definitely been a lot of talking at practice, but it’s definitely been super fun too. There’s been a lot of laughing and just dumb jokes.”
“I think it’s going to be pretty nerve wracking because it’s in a different pool and just being the last meet of our high school career,” Ball said. “It’s sad, but I think it will be pretty enjoyable. We get to show our stuff off, swim our fastest in our last meet.”
“I’m pretty excited for state,” Bergman said. “I’m stoked. I am so ready. I’m definitely going to miss the team a lot. We definitely have some good memories with them. I’m swimming at St. Cloud State University and I know basically the only reason I got there was because of my teammates and Betsy and (coach) Morgan (Wilson) and (former coach) Sally Nazer.”