Emily Bradley and Ellie Hennessy will swim one more meet in their home pool.
It almost happened three years ago for Hennessy, who took two years off but this fall as a senior returned to the Baraboo prep girls swim team. She’s glad she did.
“I came back this year because I wanted to be with everybody one last time,” Hennessy said. “I’d been in swimming my entire life and I wanted one last chance to do it, and I’m so glad I came back. This season has been incredible with the team. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The Thunderbirds will look to extend their season when they host a WIAA Division 2 sectional meet Saturday at Jack Young Middle School. They’ll be right at home, as they were when they took third at the Badger North Conference meet last weekend in Baraboo.
“When we have big meets here, it helps us,” Bradley said of swimming at the local middle school. “We train here, so we know the walls ... we know the blocks ... and it’s normally a fast pool for everyone.”
“I definitely think it’s a fast pool, with how it’s set up and everything,” Hennessy added. “We feel comfortable in it, we get to practice with the blocks and these walls and everything. Every pool is a little bit different, but I definitely like ours.”
The T-Birds will need to go fast Saturday, as the 13-team meet features four of the top six teams from last year’s state meet. Baraboo took fifth at state last year, trailing Madison Edgewood, McFarland, Tomahawk and Greendale. Edgewood and McFarland will be in Baraboo this weekend, as will Monroe/New Glarus, which took sixth at state last season.
“I think it’ll push us,” Bradley said of the high level of competition.
Baraboo took third at the home sectional last season, trailing only Edgewood and McFarland. If the T-Birds can put together a similar finish, they’ll earn plenty of spots in the Nov. 15 state meet, which will take place at the University of Wisconsin Natatorium in Madison.
“We’re really going to be fighting for those spots,” said Hennessy, who will be swimming the 100-yard breaststroke and the 200-yard freestyle relay. “I’m definitely looking to get a best time in the 100 breast, but I really want our 200 free relay to do good. We have a chance at going to state, I think, if we can all get our best times this weekend. We have really good chemistry with my relay team, and we’re all super pumped up about it.”
The T-Birds have enjoyed good chemistry all season. They got a boost when Hennessy, Claire Huebsch, Meghan Reuter and Chloe Zimmer all rejoined the team. The quartet returned to the pool to join Bradley and Kyra Hess in the senior class.
“We ended up having six seniors and it’s been a really solid group,” Hennessy said. “We definitely work together and took leadership.”
“It’s kind of sad being the last year, but also this team that we have ... we’re all super close,” said Bradley, who will swim the 200 and 500 freestyles. “We all bonded a lot. ... I’m excited to see how everyone else does and swim one of my last races. I think we’re all excited. We’re all really close this year.”
The T-Birds are itching to go, as they have let off the gas a bit this week after several hard months of training — a tactic swim teams employ to be their best-rested for the biggest meets.
“There’s a lot more energy this week,” Bradley said of how the T-Birds are feeling during their taper.
“We’re all really excited,” Hennessy said. “We’ve been training a lot, and this week we started our taper, so I think we’re going to be able to cut a lot of time this weekend and have good results. ... Everybody’s not as sore, because we don’t have morning practice anymore. I definitely think it’s going to help a lot.”
The T-Birds, led by first-year head coach Chris Lemke, feature a group of underclassmen with big-meet experience.
Four of the seven T-Birds that competed at the 2018 state meet are back. Ella Lohr took third in the 100 breaststroke (1:07.34) and seventh in the 200 individual medley (2:11.41) as a freshman last year. Lohr and Naomi Pelland, a junior this fall, also teamed up with then-seniors Hannah Vittengl and Kirby Tock to place 10th in the 400 free relay (3:42.85).
Natalie Gneiser also got state experience as a freshman, taking 11th in the 200 IM (2:13.88) and 100 breaststroke (1:09.50) while teaming up with Taylor Bradley, Tock and Vittengl to take third in the 200 medley relay (1:49.20).
Junior Mattie Letendre will look to get back to state after taking 10th in the 100 butterfly (:59.87) last year.
The T-Birds plan on getting back to that level, but they’re also looking to enjoy one last group swim in their home pool.
“I think that everybody’s worked really, really hard this season, and we’ve been so close together,” Hennessy said. “We’re all super motivated and really excited. I think we’re all coming into it with positive thoughts.”
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