WIAA girls swimming photo: Middleton's Gabriela Pierobon Mays

Middleton's Gabriela Pierobon Mays competes in the 100 yard backstroke during the 2017 WIAA Division 1 state girls swimming meet at the UW Natatorium. Pierobon Mays took third place in the event. AMBER ARNOLD, STATE JOURNAL

Middleton junior Gabriela Pierobon Mays recently announced on Twitter that she has orally committed to Vanderbilt University for women’s swimming.

Vanderbilt is in Nashville, Tennessee. 

She tweeted: “I am so blessed to announce my verbal commitment to swim and study at Vanderbilt University! Orthopedics has given me my life back twice now, and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to dedicate my life to medicine through one of the top premed institutions in the country. Thank you so much to everyone that has helped me get to this point and supported me throughout the process, especially my family, friends, coaches and doctors. Anchor down!”

Pierobon Mays overcame a broken arm as a youth and a shoulder injury during her sophomore year in school.

In her first two years in high school, she won titles in the 100-yard butterfly at the WIAA Division 1 state girls swimming and diving championship at the University of Wisconsin Natatorium.

She sustained a right shoulder injury from overuse, she said. Surgery was needed in February of her sophomore year in high school to repair a torn labrum and other damage, which required removal of bone in the back half of the shoulder, she said.

Pierobon Mays was so downcast about the injury and after the surgery that she said she considered giving up the sport.

“Many times,” she said, when asked if she thought about quitting.

She said she wondered, “What’s the point?”

But despite being sidelined more than half the year, Pierobon Mays decided to return to swimming after receiving support from her family, teammates and friends.

The point, she discovered, was to swim for the Cardinals.

“I’m swimming for my team," she said. "What can I do for my team?’’

She had her struggles during her junior season, but came through in the final high school meet of the season.

She helped lead Middleton to its third consecutive WIAA Division 1 state championship last fall.

Middleton finished first with 249.50 points, while Cedarburg was runner-up with 188.

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Cardinals senior Hannah Aegerter won the 500 freestyle and Middleton’s 200 freestyle relay claimed first, as the Cardinals used their depth and ability to swim above their sectional seed times.

“I was told I would be lucky to be able to swim my high school season,” Pierobon Mays said at the time after the Cardinals took a celebratory dip in the UW Natatorium pool after receiving the first-place trophy. “I’m really lucky to be here and to swim in this meet. I did feel the best I have this year.”

Pierobon Mays’ sectional times left her in the second of three heats for the 100 butterfly and the 100 backstroke. Her goal was to swim fast, move up and score as many points as she could.

Middleton coach Lauren Cabalka, knowing the team’s 400 freestyle relay had been disqualified for a false start at sectionals, shuffled her other two relays at the state meet. Cabalka asked Pierobon Mays to swim in the 200 freestyle relay.

“If it was going to help my team, that’s all I wanted,” Pierobon Mays said.

The goal was clear.

“Our whole team, we wanted a third (title),” Pierobon Mays said.

Pierobon Mays, sophomore Ally Silvestri, Aegerter and junior Berkley Smith finished second behind Verona/Mount Horeb in the opening 200 medley relay.

Pierobon Mays then wound up fourth in the 100 butterfly, coming out of the second heat with a time of 55.28 seconds.

After Aegerter claimed the 500 freestyle, Pierobon Mays, Smith, Aegerter and senior Makenna Licking won the next event – the 200 free relay (1 minute, 34.24 seconds). Those two victories helped Middleton pull away in the team race.

The 100 backstroke was the next event and Pierobon Mays’ time (55.78 seconds) in the second heat was good for fourth place and 15 more points for her team. 

The Cardinals built a big lead, making the final 400 freestyle relay a non-factor in any team catching Middleton.

Said Cabalka: “We swam at our best (Saturday) and I’m really proud of them.”

That included Pierobon Mays, whose difficult year ended with a relay victory and another team title.

“Man, did she deliver,” Cabalka said.


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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.