Senior standout Kiah Francis already earned five Hodag school records, four Great Northern Conference records, five WIAA sectional titles, and on Friday, she finally charted two gold medals at the WIAA state meet, breaking a 17-year-old streak since the Hodags have had a WIAA champion.
It was a perfect way for the Hodag senior to end her stellar high school career under head Coach Lindsay Byrka. Francis' two wins in the Division 2 state championship came in the 100 breaststroke and in the 200-yard individual medley relay at the UW-Madison Natatorium, where the WIAA State girls’ swimming meet took place.
In the IM, Francis clocked in with a winning time of 2 minutes, 3.30 seconds and was only three-tenths of a second shy of the Division 2 state record that was set in 2013 by Rachel Munson of Shorewood.
Francis fended off Jenna Silvestri of Kohler/Sheboygan Area Lutheran in the IM. Silvestri got a slight edge after a 30.23 split in the backstroke leg around the halfway point. But Francis would regain a lead after the breaststroke leg and closed with a 30.10 split in the freestyle to earn a 1.49 second win.
In the process of beating Silvestri, Francis also shattered her previous school record and would record the third-fastest time in the D2 state meet history.
But her second victory in the breaststroke would make WIAA State meet history, marking only the second championship tie. Francis and Silvestri would hit the wall at the same time of 1:04.09. The only other tie was also in the Division 2 breaststroke 17 years ago.
Although Francis' high school swimming career came to an end, she will be swimming at the collegiate level for Liberty University. She has made her verbal commitment earlier in the season, and Francis will sign her letter of intent on Wednesday.
Kiah Francis was not the only Hodag to make to the Division 2 WIAA State swimming meet on Friday, but she was joined by four teammates that competed in two relays.
And the Hodags' 200 freestyle relay team which include freshman Marisa McGuire, sophomore Grace Heck, Francis, and junior Taylor Macak. The Rhinelander team was able to tie for 9th place with a time of 1 minute, 42.42 seconds out 16 total entries.
Rhinelander swam in the second of three total heats, where they tied with Brown Deer/University School of Milwaukee which included Katie Hayes, Amanda Hoppe, Abby Frenkel, and Kalli Noll. Great Northern Conference rival, Tomahawk also took part in the 200-freestyle relay and placed 6th overall with a time of 1:40.80.
McGuire led the 200-free relay off and had a 26.95 split. Heck would follow with a 25.71 split, and Francis in third had the fasted Hodag split at 23.55. Macak anchored the team and finished with a 26.21 split in the final 50.
The Hodags opened the swimming portion of the WIAA Division 2 meet in the 200-medley relay, swimming in the first of two heats which also included the Hatchets.
Sophomore Maddie Quinn would join Francis, Heck, and McGuire for their 14th place finish with a time of a 1:55.58, which beat their qualifying time by 0.12 seconds. Quinn opened with a 31.89-split in the backstroke. Francis posted a 29.22-split in the breast. Heck followed in the butterfly at 28.51. And McGuire closed relay with a 25.96 freestyle split.
Although the Hodags were unable to reach the podium in either relay, they improved from their 12th seed in the freestyle to 9th, and also improved their qualify times in both events which is all they could ask for going into the state meet.
Rhinelander is already looking ahead to the 2017 season, where they will have to replace two-time state champion Francis as well as fellow senior Shelby Kuehn to graduation. But with a mix of experienced swimmers returning, the Hodags will continue to work hard in the off-season in hopes of returning to state for the third straight year.
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