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Wildcat swimmers sectional runner-up

The Wildcat girls' swim and dive team shows off its sectional runner-up plaque after finishing second at the WIAA Division 2 Sectional in Stevens Point Saturday. Pictured are, front row from left, manager Carl Tiede, Katelynn Sherman, Claire Goblirsch, assistant coach Angie Tholen, Kate Barnes, head coach Lynn Huiskamp, Kaija Warner, Emily Jilek, Kenzie Morrow and Sara Veith. Back row, Maria Mishek, Emma Langer, Sarah Weller, Destinee Yang, Kendra LaCroix, Mandy Hedeen, Shannon Moe and Leah Morrow. Missi...

The Wildcat girls swim and dive team may not have had any state qualifiers come out of Saturday's WIAA Sectional Meet in Stevens Point, but it did bring home a sectional runner-up plaque.

The Cats' depth was on full display as they finished second only to Ashwaubenon's first place score of 385.5 in the 15-team field. River Falls was second with 219 followed by Ladysmith/Bruce/Flambeau with 214 and Lakeland with 203.

It's the third straight year the Wildcats have been sectional runner-up.

Head coach Lynn Huiskamp said the Cats were able to edge Ladysmith/Bruce/Flambeau for second place thanks to an inspired River Falls' effort in the final event of the day -- the 400 freestyle relay.

"We were in third place prior to the last event, behind the second place team by three points," Huiskamp said. "On paper, it seemed fairly impossible we could land two spots above this team to get the runner up finish. But I overheard this relay team's chatter with one another before going up to the blocks. They were very animated, excited and so ready to race. And they really proved it. Wonderful splits from each, a faster time and the finish the team needed."

Leah Morrow, Kenzie Morrow, Shannon Moe and Mandy Hedeen combined for a third place time of 3 minutes, 57.79 seconds while the LBF team finished eighth, vaulting the Cats past LBF for second place in the final team standings.

After picking up 16 diving points from first-year diver Karle Place's third place finish Friday night, the Cats' strategy going into Saturday's swimming competition was to collect as many points as possible. Huiskamp said she saw that earnestness early from Moe and Emily Jilek in the 200 individual medley.

"Both took out their races hard and when it came to their final 50 freestyle legs, both pushed harder and had fast freestyle splits," Huiskamp said. "Shannon just dug in the last 15 yards to chase down a competitor to land on the podium in seventh place with a lifetime best swim."

Moe's personal best time of 2:29.28 earned her a seventh place medal while Jilek contributed to the Cats' team score with a 12th place time of 2:31.58.

The Cats gambled in the 100 butterfly by entering four swimmers in the race, but it paid off when all four finished in the top 11. Kate Barnes' just missed a spot at state with a third place time of 1:05.04. Jilek finished fifth in 1:06.65 and Moe placed 10th in 1:08.75 while Destinee Yang was 11th in 1:09.39, a full two seconds faster than her previous best time.

"They knew they were swimming for points for the team, but also, individually, against one another," Huiskamp said. "Undoubtedly they were keenly aware of this potential tension, but it was never an issue and never discussed. I saw this kind of team duality played out many times this season with maturity levels generally reserved for older athletes."

Jilek, Leah Morrow, Barnes and Hedeen teamed up for a fourth place time of 1:44.99 in the 200 freestyle relay, a major accomplishment according to Huiskamp.

"Both of our free relays gained speed from all contributors," she said. "A major feat was getting the 200 free relay under 1:45. Already, the team has relay goals set for next season."

Leah Morrow also turned in a fifth place time of 57.66 seconds in the 100 freestyle and Hedeen was 10th in 58.79, while Barnes was eighth in the 50 free in 26.32 seconds, Hedeen placed 12th in 26.52 and Leah Morrow was 13th in 26.55.

"Senior Captain Mandy Hedeen had a great day to finish 12th in the 50, 10th in the 100 and fantastic relay splits," Huiskamp said. "I have relied on Mandy to anchor both free relays as she is so steady, so true and can always bring it home in the biggest of meets. She really did that on Saturday with lifetime best splits."

Barnes, Moe, Yang and Jilek combined for an eighth place time of 2:03.89 in the 200 medley relay, while Kaija Warner made the awards podium by moving up three places from her seeded time in the 100 backstroke to finish eighth in 1:09.05.

Kenzie Morrow finished 11th in the 200 freestyle in 2:11.98, while Maria Mishek, Sarah Weller and Emma Langer finished 15th, 16th and 17th with times of 6:05.99, 6:07.88 and 6:11.00, respectively.

"Although the middle of the 500 free event was more competitive than I had hoped, senior Sarah Weller really swam an inspired race, ending with a 16th place finish and a best time by six seconds," Huiskamp said. "Sarah swam her pace just as we had practiced and responded immediately to signs indicating she needed to boost her pace."

Huiskamp said it's been another wonderful season for River Fall girls' swimming and diving.

"Every year I wonder how and if the team will gel, and if they can come together for individual and big team goals, and every year it seems to happen," she said. "We have had such steady leadership through our seniors. They are each unique, and have aided in the team's identity and growth over the past four years."

Bob Burrows

Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.

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