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Middleton girls swimming coach Lauren Cabalka was worried.

The Cardinals didn’t qualify their 400-yard freestyle relay for Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 state girls swimming and diving championship, seemingly putting their bid for another title in peril.

But Cabalka and the Cardinals wound up with no reason for concern. They were able to sit back and watch the 12th and final event at the University of Wisconsin Natatorium. They already had been jumping for joy on the pool deck when victories during the eighth and ninth events — the 500 freestyle and the 200 freestyle relay, respectively — built a lead no foe could surpass.

Top-ranked Middleton totaled 249.50 points and won its third consecutive state championship.

Senior Hannah Aegerter came from behind and won the 500 freestyle in 4 minutes, 55.48 seconds for her first individual title, and teammate Makenna Licking placed third. Then, the Cardinals’ team of junior Gabriela Pierobon Mays, junior Berkley Smith, Aegerter and Licking claimed the 200 freestyle relay in 1:34.24 — followed, in order, by Big Eight Conference rivals Verona/Mount Horeb, Sun Prairie and Madison Memorial.

“The girls were determined certainly to make it happen again, but, man, this was the hardest fight,” Cabalka said. “I think the 500 was a really solidifying race for us. It was such a great win for Hannah.”

Cedarburg finished second with 188 points. Sun Prairie (170) placed third and Verona/Mount Horeb was fourth (169).

“It’s incredible,” said Aegerter, who has orally committed to the University of Illinois. “We had to overcome so much throughout the year, and even before this meet. This team has fought from Day One and we knew we could do it.”

Individually, Verona/Mount Horeb’s Grace Bennin and Sun Prairie sophomore Sophie Fiske had standout performances.

“It was the best meet of my life,” said Bennin, a senior at Mount Horeb who has orally committed to the University of Minnesota.

Bennin won the 100 breaststroke for the third consecutive year, finishing in 1:00.65 and breaking the 2001 Division 1 state record of 1:01.72.

“It was amazing,” Bennin said. “I was hoping to go that fast, but I was not expecting it. It didn’t even seem real. It seems like a really good dream. … I knew I was going fast because I felt really good. I didn’t know I was going that fast.”

Bennin also claimed the 200 individual medley in 1:59.93, and joined juniors Sara Stewart and Josie McCartney and freshman Kenzie Zuehl to win the 200 medley relay in 1:43.34. Middleton (1:44.08) was second.

Fiske established personal bests while winning the 50 freestyle in :23.20 and the 100 freestyle in :50.35. She also anchored Sun Prairie’s victorious 400 freestyle relay (3:26.55), joined by senior Michaela Nelson, junior Bree Moericke and sophomore Janelle Schulz.

Fiske said she felt strong physically, but the long season had left her mentally fatigued. Her teammates lifted her spirits entering the meet.

“It’s amazing,” Fiske said. “I really owe it to my teammates because they were motivating me all through the meet. I wasn’t feeling up to it, but my teammates motivated me.”

Madison West senior Katrina Marty, who’s committed to Arizona State, finished second to Brookfield East sophomore Reilly Tiltmann in both the 100 butterfly (:54.62 to :54.56) and the 100 backstroke (:54.76 to :54.62).

Middleton, meanwhile, relied on its depth and the ability of its swimmers to perform above their seed times.

After Middleton’s 400 freestyle relay was disqualified for an improper start at sectionals, Cabalka shuffled the team’s other two relays Saturday. That included inserting Pierobon Mays into Middleton’s 200 freestyle relay, which earned the state title for the third consecutive year.

Pierobon Mays, who had won the 100 butterfly title the past two seasons, said she was fortunate just to be swimming this season after having right shoulder surgery in February to repair a torn labrum.

Aegerter (1:52.36) also was second in the 200 freestyle, won by defending champion Cassie Stegner (1:49.21), a junior from Menomonee Falls/Sussex Hamilton. Middleton sophomore Ally Silvestri finished second in the 100 breaststroke and fourth in the 200 individual medley. Pierobon Mays was fourth in the 100 butterfly after starting in the second of three heats.

“Our whole team, we wanted a third title,” Pierobon Mays said. “To know that as a team we overcame the doubts, and everyone thinking we were not going to do it, I’m so proud of these girls to pull through and fight.”

Neenah junior Av Osero won the diving title for the third consecutive year. Osero totaled 515.20 points, finishing ahead of runner-up McKenzie Sanchez (493.45), a Racine Case senior.

Bucky!

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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.