Chi-Hi girls 400-yard freestyle relay swim team

The Chi-Hi girls 400-yard freestyle relay swim team will compete at this weekend’s WIAA state championships. Members of the team, including alternates, are (from left to right): Grace Polhamus, Sydnea Berg, Becca Adams, Haley Jones, Mackenzie Shakal, Kelsey Lato.

BRANDON BERG, The Herald

For the second straight year, the Chi-Hi girls 400-yard freestyle relay swimming team has made a splash at a statewide level.

The Cardinals will compete in Saturday’s WIAA state swimming championships in Madison after posting one of the 24 best times in the state at sectionals last weekend. This is the second consecutive appearance at the championships for the 400 freestyle relay team, which will have a different look than last year’s group.

“It’s kind of rare to have a relay that dominates so much,” Cardinals first-year coach Thomas Hensen said. “It’s not just at sectionals, at dual meets we can pretty much put those four girls together against any team and win in our conference.”

The team of Haley Jones, Grace Polhamus, Becca Adams and Sydnea Berg finished in fourth place at sectionals in Hudson with a time of 3 minutes, 43.26 seconds in the final of the event. That shaved off over 10 seconds from their seeding time, a big improvement that propelled the Cardinals to the state meet.

Chi-Hi was the second to last team to qualify for the championships in the state, reaching the meet with the 23rd best sectional time in Division 1.

The secret to the Cardinals’ success in the 400 freestyle relay isn’t much of a secret at all—they’ve got four swimmers who excel in the 100-yard freestyle.

“I feel like we just have a lot of powerful 100 freestyle swimmers compared to other teams,” Jones said.

Jones is the lone senior on this year’s relay team. Last November, the Cardinals took 20th place in the state race with a team of two seniors, a junior (Jones) and a freshman (Berg). Polhamus and Adams are both sophomores, giving the team a fresh look this season while still retaining state meet experience.

“I remember when I was younger, I always relied on the upperclassmen,” Jones said. “I had no say or opinion, I just kind of did what they did. So now for me to be a senior, it’s kind of weird leading the pack.”

Having a younger group has paid off though, as the three sophomores have made the transition rather seamless.

“That is huge for the team,” Hensen said. “For our sophomores who were freshmen last year to step up this year and fill those big shoes, that’s huge for the team and that shows a lot of promise for the future.”

Jones leads the team as its first swimmer into the water during the race, a role she held last year as well. She was followed by Polhamus at sectionals, with Adams going into the pool third and Berg anchoring the relay. Mackenzie Shakal and Kelsey Lato are the alternates for the relay.

The Cardinals are aiming to be competitive at the state championship by dropping some time from their sectional race, but also to have fun with the experience.

“For me, this will be my third time going to state so I already know kind of what to expect,” Jones said. “So there’s really no nerves for me. I guess it’ll be kind of exciting showing all the people who haven’t been on the deck how things go.”

There’s still some other state meet experience on the relay in addition to Jones and Berg’s participation last year. Polhamus was an alternate for Chi-Hi’s 200-yard freestyle relay last November, so she’s been there to see the championships before.

“I guess I know how it is kind of, but I don’t know how it is to swim in a race at state. So that will be exciting,” Polhamus said. “It’s very exciting seeing the times that people swim are insane.”

However things turn out on Saturday, the girls plan on having a lot of fun with the experience—both in and out of the pool.

“This is probably my most exciting year yet,” Jones said. “We got new coaches, and they’re amazing. We love them, so I think it’s going to be really fun going down to state. Playing laser tag with them, I’m really looking forward to that.”

The Division 1 swimming championships begin at 3 p.m. at the University of Wisconsin Natatorium in Madison. The 400 freestyle relay is scheduled to be the final event of the meet.

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