MHS swimmers crown two-time Sectional Champion, qualifies for WIAA State Swim Meet
The Merrill High School swim team traveled to Rhinelander on Saturday, Nov. 7, for this year’s WIAA Division II Sectional swim meet.
The WIAA opted for 7 sectional locations in the Division II tournament this year to help reduce the risk of Covid exposure. As with all meets so far this season, no spectators were allowed. The seven teams in Rhinelander were also competing against the six teams in Medford for their overall finish.
“It was a challenging meet on top of an already challenging season” commented Coach Kristie Winter. “The hosts did their best to help keep the atmosphere upbeat and fun, but you could feel some of the normal energy was just not there. We were incredibly lucky to have an excellent livestream provided by Hodag Sports for our parents and friends at home.” The Bluejays finished in 8th place as a team out of the 13 teams in the event. However, they had some excellent times with almost the entire team earning individual points in the meet by placing in the top 16.
Senior Captain Erin Kanitz started the individual events off with a 6th place finish in the 200y Freestyle. Junior captain Laney Zuelsdorff scored as well with a 14th place personal best swim in the event. In the 200y Individual Medley Sophomore Amber Winter battled hard but was outswam in the last 25 yards finishing a close 2nd place just behind the reigning sectional champion Rhinelander’s Mckenna Winnicki earning her an 8th place seed at the state meet on Friday. Sophomore Caitlynn Pehlke pushed hard for a 14th place finish in the 100y fly moving up 2 spots from her seed time. Then, in the 500y free Kanitz came back to take 3rd place and earn herself a 14th place seed at the state meet. Junior Tanaya Pillai also had a season-best swim in the distance event cutting nearly 7 seconds for a 14th place finish as well.
In the 100y backstroke Sophomore Mya Wilde had a personal-best swim and finished 14th as well. In the final individual event of the meet the 100y breaststroke, Junior Captain Emma Pajtash started strong with a 14th place finish. Then in the next heat Winter finished in 1st place receiving Sectional Champion honors 2-years in a row and earning her a 3rd place seed at the state meet on Friday, Nov.13. Pajtash, Zuelsdorff, Winter and Kanitz also joined in the 200y Free Relay to earn a spot at the state swim meet, with their season best swim in the event.
“This season has been full of ups and downs and has certainly been unconventional” Coach Winter adds.
“At one point we were down to just 5 swimmers due to quarantines, but the girls never gave up. They took up running or biking to stay in shape while at home. Amber Winter even swam alone at Council Grounds in the river when she could not be with the team. Many gave up time with friends and teachers and used the virtual option at school the last few days to make sure they would stay healthy. I am so pleased to see all their hard work and sacrifices payoff. These girls love the water, and think of their teammates as family. I am so proud of them all.”
Then team will travel to Waukesha South High School for the WIAA State swim meet on Friday. The event will be livestreamed on the WIAA network.