Youth doesn’t come without its share of struggles. The Oregon/Belleville girls swimming team has struggled with numbers and the program has struggled to qualify for state since moving to the fastest sectional in the state in 2005. Oregon didn’t participate at sectionals in 2004.
Fielding a team of just 13 girls and two upperclassmen this season, traveled to Middleton on Saturday for sectionals and as a result, the Panthers were unable to send anyone back to this weekend’s WIAA Division 1 state meet.
The meet features the top-ranked team in the state in the host Cardinals, who have won the last two state titles. Sun Prairie is ranked fifth in D1. The sectional also features Verona Area/Mount Horeb and Madison West, each of whom got bumped out of the top five late in the season, and Madison Memorial.
Oregon had a nice run of state qualifiers from 2006-11, which featured 15 individual swims and 11 state qualifying relays. The Panthers ended a state drought from 2012 until last season when Jenna Dobrinsky qualified in the 500 free and also helped the 200 free relay qualify. Dobrinsky, now a junior, opt not to rejoin the team this season.
As a result, Oregon entered sectionals expecting their 200-yard medley and 200 freestyle relays to have the best shot at qualifying for state. While each was competitive, fielding four underclassmen, they didn’t quite make the state cut.
Freshman Claudia Schwartz and sophomore Mattea Thomason, Zoe Rule and Halle Bush finished ninth in the 200 medley relay to open Saturday’s meet in 1 minute, 55.2 seconds. It was a drop of nearly four seconds from their seed time. The state qualifying standard was 1:51.94.
Bush, Thomason, Rule and Schwartz returned to the pool in the 200 free relay and finished 10th, besting their season-best by more than two seconds with a 1:45.34. The state-qualifying standard was a 1:41.52.
“Almost every event was faster this year, coach Michael Keleny said. “The girls swam well, almost all of them had a PR at sectionals,” he said.
Thomason went on to place 14th in the 100 breaststroke with a season-best 1:14.01.
Schwartz had nearly a three-and-a-half second PR in the 200 free and finished 16th in 2:00.52. She cut close to a second off her seed time in the 500 free as well, placing 19th in 5:29.43.
Rule finished 19th in the 100 butterfly with a best time of 1:03.2 and shaved two seconds off her seed time to take 16th place in the 100 back (1:03.27).
Bush added a little time in her 200 free and finished 28th, but she bounced back to post a season-best 26.74 for 19th in the 50 free. Freshman Brooke White was 20th in a season-best 26.82.
Sophomore Victoria Helvig cut three-and-a-half seconds off her seed time in the 200 IM and finished 23rd in 2:22.84. She dropped close to three seconds in her 100 backstroke and finished 14th in 1:02.64.
Oregon had three more best times in the 50 free from sophomore Isabella Nowka, freshman Lily Gebauer and junior Grace Kiessau.
Sophomore Caroline Rusch had a two second PR in the 100 back.
The only Panther seniors swimming Saturday, Olivia Keast finished 27th in the 100 free with a nearly a two-and-a-half second season-best (1:00.48), and Kathleen Reif won her heat and took 25th in the 100 breaststroke (1:24.76) with close to a two second personal-best.
“Both Seniors swam well and finished the season on a high note,” Keleny said.
Junior Michaela Rosga added a little time in the 100 free.
Keleny is optimistic about next year.
“We’re feeling good about next year,” he said. “We will have a few new freshman, and hopefully more new swimmers in general. We are hoping for a bigger team.”