When sophomore Isabella Gnewuch chose to put her club swimming plans on hold so she could swim the high school season, Verona Area/Mount Horeb girls swimming coach Bill Wuerger was excited to add her into a stable of first-year talent that featured 10 freshmen.
Gnewuch and the Wildcats’ freshmen made an immediate impact in their first WIAA Division 1 sectional on Saturday, Nov. 6, at Milton High School.
Gnewuch was one of a trio of VA/MH swimmers to qualify for state in four events. Gnewuch qualified for state in the 100-yard butterfly, 200 individual medley and as a member on the 200 medley and 400 free relays. Verona Area/Mount Horeb had 11 individuals and three relays that qualified for state.
“For most of them it wasn’t a given that they would make it,” Verona Area/Mount Horeb coach Bill Wuerger said. “They had to swim their best times of the season. I give the girls a lot of credit for stepping up and doing what they needed to do to make it to the next level. Most of the state qualifiers we knew, they had a good shot of making it if they swam great. It’s the one day you have to swim well and if you are a little bit off you don’t make it.”
The sectional champion earned an automatic state berth. The next fastest 16 times from all the sectionals combined also earned state berths.
Verona Area/Mount Horeb sophomore Annika Rufenacht finished second in diving with a season-best score of 443 points, 38.5 points behind Madison West’s Rian Wells.
Freshman teammate Monica Schmidt took fourth place in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 2 minutes, 9.51 seconds.
Seniors Maia Blas and Tola Klabough earned state berths in the 100 free, 200 free, 200 free and 400 free relays.
Gnewuch finished fifth in the 100 butterfly (58.19) and sixth in the 200 IM (2:11.49). Blas took seventh in the 100 free (54.0) and eighth in the 200 free (1:57.40) to qualify for state.
“We knew coming in even though it was her first year that she would be one of our stronger swimmers,” Wuerger said of Gnewuch. “She works very hard and has been a club swimmer for many years.”
All three of the VA/MH relays — the 200 medley, 200 free and 400 free qualified for state in season-best times.
Gnewuch teamed with freshman Emily Spielman, Schmidt and senior Kenzie Zuehl to take fifth in the 200 medley relay (1:50.99). Gnewuch swims the backstroke in the medley relay.
“It’s not her best event, but she’s our fastest in the backstroke and she does that to help our relay,” Wuerger said. “There have been a couple of meets where she has been our fastest in the 100 free. The close races bring out the best in her.”
The Wildcats' 200 free relay team of Klabough, Spielman, Zuehl and Blas placed fifth in the 200 free relay (1:39.23).
In the 400 free relay, Klabough teamed with Blas, freshman Kyrah Kittleson and Gnewuch to take fifth (3:37.14).
Klabough finished seventh in the 200 free (1:57.20) and eighth in the 100 free (54.06). Blas took seventh in the 100 free (54.0) and eighth in the 200 free (1:578.40).
Freshman Addisyn Roswold entered the state meet seeded 42nd in the 100 breaststroke and she took fourth with a season-best time of 1:07.76 to qualify for state. She dropped 4.3 seconds to earn a state berth.
“Addisyn Roswold was the biggest surprise,” Wuerger said.
Kittleson placed ninth in the 500 free (5:14.99) to qualify for state.
Freshman Ava Newman came close to becoming the fifth first-year swimmer for VA/MH to make it to state. Newman finished 11th in the 500 free, about 2.8 seconds away from qualifying for state. Junior Claire Lodico placed ninth in the 100 back (1:01.33), also close to a state berth. Schmidt finished 10th in the 100 breaststroke (1:08.85) and Spielman took seventh in the 100 breaststroke (1:08.16) and 13th in the 100 butterfly (1:00.43).
State meet preview
Many of the 11 individual events and three relays Verona Area/Mount Horeb has at the WIAA Division 1 state meet on Saturday, Nov. 13, will swim in the first heat and are seeded 17th to 24th.
The one seeking to win another medal is Rufenacht, who finished sixth in diving at state in the alternate fall season last spring.
Based on her sectional runner-up performance of 443 points, Rufenacht is seeded fifth. She may have the Wildcats’ best chance of medaling at state.
“Diving is hard to predict,” Wuerger said. “It’s not like where you get a time in swimming. It’s a subjective score from a panel of judges.”
The Wildcats’ 200 freestyle relay team is seeded ninth (1:39.23) and will swim in lane 4 in the second of three heats. In the 400 free relay, VA/MH is seeded 14th.
Schmidt is tied with Appleton North sophomore Allison Greeneway as the 15th seed out of 24 competitors in the 200 IM (2:09.51).
“It will take them dropping another big chunk of time to be in the top eight,” Wuerger said. “I’m not sure if that is in the cards this year. Maybe someone will surprise us again. If they can swim a little bit faster than last weekend we will be very happy for them.”
Brookfield East, which is the top seed in seven of the 11 events, is the favorite to win the state title. Middleton, which finished as the state runner-up to Madison Edgewood last spring in the alternate fall season, will be one of the state title contenders along with Madison West.
Brookfield East junior Lucy Thomas is the top seed in the 200 free (1:48.23) and the 100 breaststroke (1:00.85). Senior teammate Abby Wanezek is the top seed in the 100 free (50.20) and 50 free (22.88). Junior teammate Reese Tiltmann is the top seed in the 500 free (4:56.65). Brookfield East also has the No. 1 seed in the 200 free relay (1:33.19) and 200 medley relay (1:42.49). Brookfield East’s Maggie Wanezek is the top seed in the 100 backstroke (52.44).