Verona Area/Mount Horeb senior Sara Stewart was an eyelash away from medaling in the 100-yard backstroke at the Division 1 state meet Saturday, Nov. 16.
Stewart finished eighth in the event with a time of 56.13 seconds, .12 of a second away from earning a sixth-place medal at the University of Wisconsin Natatorium.
“I got a lifetime-best time, so I had that on my mind and I was more happy about that than going out with a faster time and making it on the podium,” she said.
The Illinois State commit had mixed emotions after swimming in her final prep race — the 400 freestyle relay.
“It was really sad thinking about my lasts on the team and I couldn’t wrap my head around it,” Stewart said. “I feel like the four years went by in a second.”
Of the Wildcats’ seven individual events and three relays at state, none earned a medal. However, multiple individuals and relays turned in season-best and lifetime-best times in the final meet of the season.
“This meet gets faster and faster every year,” Verona Area/Mount Horeb coach Bill Wuerger said. “Just getting here is a huge accomplishment.”
The Wildcats had a Division 1 program-record nine participants in the state meet, and the team posted seven personal-record times.
VA/MH freshman Peyton Drexler finished eighth in the 200 freestyle (1:54.17) and ninth in the 500 free (5:06.75). Both were season-best times.
“I was hoping to (get on the podium), but I wasn’t expecting it because I’m a freshman,” Drexler said.
“This was a great experience for her,” Wuerger said of Drexler. “You never really know how a freshman will react to swimming in front of a crowd this big. I thought she handled the state meet atmosphere really well.”
Stewart teamed with seniors Sam Malecki and Josie McCartney and sophomore Kenzie Zuehl in the 10th-place 200 medley relay (1:48.67). The Wildcats’ 200 free relay team of Malecki, Kenzie Zuehl, senior Kaitlyn Zuehl and sophomore Maia Blas also placed 10th (1:38.53), 1.2 seconds faster than their seed time.
Stewart took 12th in the 100 free (53.10). The Wildcats’ 400 free relay team of Stewart, McCartney, Drexler and sophomore Tola Klabough claimed 13th (3:34.93), .6 seconds faster than their seed time.
McCartney (57.90) and junior Bailey Felsheim (58.59) finished 15th and 19th, respectively, in the 100 butterfly.
“I will definitely remember coming to state my freshman year,” McCartney said. “Everything was completely new to me and the seniors were really welcoming, made sure I knew what was going on and they appreciated what I had achieved. My goal going into my senior year was to make sure the freshmen felt the same way.”
Malecki added a 17th-place finish in the 200 IM (2:09.86).
Three of the four seniors for the Wildcats were four-time state qualifiers: Stewart, McCartney and Kaitlyn Zuehl.
“They will be tough to replace,” Wuerger said of the seniors, “not only the points they score in the pool, but their leadership. Their teammates really respect them.”