The season may have ended for the Lakeland girls’ swim team on Saturday in Stevens Point, but their performance at the sectional meet showed that, as a program, they are just hitting their stride.

The young Thunderbirds came into the meet as the Great Northern Conference’s fifth place team, though they finished 10th at the Colby/Abbotsford sectional in Point and will not send a swimmer to state.  

However, all four of the Lakeland girls who reached the podium not only dropped time in individual races, but they are all returning next year.

“Each year, like last year, we had moved up from where we were the year before,” head coach Chris Garcia said. “This year we moved up again from where we were a year ago, so I’m happy where we ended up, cause it’s just going to get better.”

The foundation Lakeland will build upon largely includes the members of their 200 and 400 yard freestyle relay team of freshmen Naomi Hamerla and Rylee Ahlborn, sophomore Mariah Angove, and junior Amanda Kosmen. 

Though as a team they did not drop time in the 200 (the race they almost broke a school record in at the conference meet) or the 400, they did reach the podium in both, taking sixth in the 200 in 1:44.07 and eighth in the 400 with a time of 3:52.13.

“Relays didn’t finish up quite where we wanted, but we had had a really good meet again last Friday night and I knew it was going to be hard to drop some more time,” Garcia said.

In individual races, however, all four of them improved.

“The girls that I though were going to have some more time drops then last week did,” Garcia said.

Kosmen took a second and a half off her seed team in the 200 yard freestyle and finished 11th in 2:08.23. She also took more than a second off her 50 yard freestyle time and finished 19th with a 26.62.

Ahlborn reached the podium in the 100 yard freestyle with a 56.35 finish, good for a seventh place tie with fellow freshman Brooke Lechleitner from Ladysmith Co-op.

Angove, the conference champion in the 100 free, also dropped time in that race and finished ninth with a time of 56.65. She also made the podium in the 100 backstroke, finishing eighth in 1:03.03.

Hamerla had the best overall individual finish for Lakeland, taking sixth place in the 100 yard butterfly with a time of 1:03.74, which was 0.68 better than her seed time.

Seniors Rose Main and Celeste Teichmiller also had significant time drops and ended their careers showing significant improvement.

Main dropped over eight seconds off her 500 free seed time and finished 23rd in 6:57.60, while Teichmiller dropped over three seconds off her 100 yard breaststroke time and finished 15th in 1:20.48.

Unfortunately though, the competition improved on Saturday as well.

“Everybody else is going to get faster. That is how it works,” Garcia said.

Merrill, Tomahawk, Wausau East, and Rice Lake all dominated the field and finished within seven and a half points of each other.

The final nail-biting results were Merrill winning the meet with 267.5 points followed by Tomahawk with 265. Wausau East took third with 262 points and Rice took fourth with 260.

Then there was a significant drop off in points as Medford took fifth with 203.5 points, followed by Menomonie with 193, River Falls with 141, Lakeland Union with 128.5, Black River Falls/Blair-Taylor with 95, Colby/Abby with 39, and Antigo rounded out the field with 38 points.  

Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes.com or sports@lakelandtimes.com.