MIDDLETON — First and foremost, Middleton senior Caroline Hippen had concern for teammate Hannah Aegerter, who received medical attention on the pool deck after the 200-meter freestyle Saturday.
Then, Hippen wondered how Aegerter’s absence just two events into the meet would affect the top-ranked and host Cardinals’ performance at the WIAA Division 1 girls swimming sectional.
But defending state champion Middleton inserted swimmers and shuffled lineup orders for the later 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relays and used its depth to claim the sectional title with 394 points. Fourth-ranked Verona/Mount Horeb was second with 337, followed by Madison Memorial (283) and Sun Prairie (263) in the 13-team meet.
Middleton swept the three relays — winning the opening 200 medley in a pool-record 1 minute, 44.20 seconds. Hippen was part of the Cardinals’ winning 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relays. Sophomore Berkley Smith was inserted into the 200 freestyle lineup and junior Makenna Licking added to the 400 freestyle.
“I was really nervous how our team would respond,” Hippen said. “We could have lost focus on what our main goal was, but we bounced back. … There was a lot of change and that is really hard. But, fortunately, we stayed focused and we stayed professional. It was remarkable because it was a roller coaster of a day.”
Middleton coach Lauren Cabalka said Aegerter, a junior, was OK after being taken to a local hospital. Cabalka described the situation as a “medical emergency,” but declined to specify what ailed Aegerter, who led the 200 freestyle until the final leg and then was carried off after being attended to poolside.
“That’s a big deal when you have been practicing with the same people all year and an hour before your relays you are told that it’s going to be different at such a high-stakes meet,” Cabalka said. “But they were composed. They didn’t let it rattle them.”
Verona/Mount Horeb's Sophie Henshue, a senior at Verona, won the 200 freestyle in 1:52.48, ahead of runner-up Hippen and Aegerter. Henshue also won the 500 freestyle in 5:00.41. Teammate Grace Bennin, a junior, claimed the 50 freestyle in 23.52 seconds and won the 100 breaststroke in 1:04.03, which broke her own pool record.
“I always say this meet is so unpredictable,” said Henshue, whose victories earned her automatic spots at next Saturday’s Division 1 state swimming and diving meet at the University of Wisconsin Natatorium. “My coach, Bill Wuerger, always says to focus on yourself and individual goals. So, my expectations were to go as fast as I can, do my best and see what happens.”
Henshue said she wouldn’t have predicted the high level of her performance Saturday after suffering a fractured hip flexor while in club swimming during the winter of her sophomore year and missing three months of training while recovering.
Henshue caught Aegerter during the last 25 meters of the 200 freestyle. Henshue wanted to make sure Aegerter was OK afterward, saying, “Her face was as white as a ghost. I was very concerned.” With second-seeded Aegerter out of the 500 freestyle, top-seeded Henshue claimed a comfortable win.
“I respect Hannah a lot,” Henshue said. “She has been one of my primary competitors the past two years. She is one of the swimmers who always pushes me. I had to push myself today because, unfortunately, she wasn’t there.”
Madison West junior Katrina Marty won the 100 butterfly (:55.55) and 100 backstroke (:54.56) — ahead of Middleton sophomore Gabriela Pierobon Mays, the runner-up in both.
“Today, all of my races felt great,” Marty said. “But I do think I can swim faster at state. I will be more tapered. I’m excited.”
Sun Prairie freshman Sophie Fiske won the 100 freestyle (:51.85) and Janesville Craig senior Erin Donagan won the 200 individual medley (2:06.67).