Malia Francis stands at the front of the room during the Rhinelander High School girls’ swim team banquet in the RHS commons Sunday, Dec. 8. Francis was named the Division 2 girls’ swimmer of the year by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association, and her WIAA state championship performance in the 100-yard backstroke was selected as WISCA’s D2 swim of the year. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander High School girls’ swim team award winners pose for a photograph following the team’s banquet in the RHS commons Sunday, Dec. 8. Pictured, from left to right, are Makenna Winnicki, Malia Francis, Noelle St. Pierre, Riley Miller and Genna Fugle.
12/12/2019 7:32:00 AM Hodags' Francis earns swim, swimmer of the year honors from WISCA
Malia Francis' phenomenal sophomore season was recently recognized by the Wisconsin Swim Coaches Association.
The Rhinelander swimmer was selected to receive WISCA's Division 2 swimmer and swim of the year awards based on her championship performances in the 100-yard butterfly and the 100 backstroke in last month's WIAA state meet in Madison.
Francis dominated both events. She won the 100 fly by 1.38 seconds with a time of 56.23, which was tied for the seventh-fastest time in D2 state history. She followed that up by missing the state D2 record in the 100 backstroke by a scant 0.07 seconds to earn another state title.
"Well-deserved for sure. Malia was fantastic at the state meet," coach Jenny Heck said. "She's quite a swimmer and it's quite an honor. The southern (Wisconsin) teams usually get most of the recognition for the state awards. I think it just proves how noticeable and noteworthy her races and her times were."
Francis' performance in the 100 backstroke earned WISCA's nod for the individual swim of the year. It was one of the most anticipated races of the night, as Francis battled two other sophomores - reigning state champ in the event Mara Freeman of McFarland and state runner-up Anna teDuits of Madison Edgewood. Francis turned it into a rout, leading wall-to-wall to beat Freeman by 0.96 seconds. teDuits was third, 1.25 seconds back. Francis had a whopping 3.37-second gap on fourth-place finisher Emma Harris of Whitefish Bay.
"Maila knows her competition and she knew that it was going to be quite a race," Heck said. "She was prepared both mentally and physically. I think she swam faster then she thought she would."
In addition to her two victories, Francis had the fastest breaststroke split in the 200 freestyle relay (29.60) as the Hodags finished fifth overall in that race. She had the fourth-fastest split in the 200 freestyle really (24.25) as the Hodags placed eighth in that race.
In addition to Francis' individual awards, Rhinelander had four all-state swims at the WIAA state meet - Francis in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke, Makenna Winnicki (4th) in the 500 freestyle and the 200 medley relay of Lisa Kennedy, Francis, Winnicki and Noelle St. Pierre.
The awards will be presented during WISCA's annual banquet May 3, 2020 in Hartford.
The Hodags handed out more awards Sunday during their year-end banquet in the RHS commons.
There was no most valuable swimmer award, but Francis was honored with the coaches' award for what she contributed to the team this year -which included two state titles, three sectional titles, three conference titles and a host of pool, school and conference records.
"The coaches award goes to someone who is very valuable and really meant a lot to the team, worked hard, good attitude and elevates others. Without a doubt, that's Malia Francis," Jenny Heck said. "It was super to have her on the team. Not only is she a great swimmer, but she elevated us to be better. I think she pushed myself to be a better coach and she pushed the other girls to be better swimmers in her quiet way."
Winnicki received the Dedication Award from the team, St. Pierre was named the most improved swimmer, Riley Miller won the Hodag award and Genna Fugle was named the rookie of the year.
Winnicki, in addition to placing fourth in the 500 freestyle at state, was a sectional champion in that event as well as the 200 individual medley. She and Francis both swam four-event programs at state.
"She trained really hard this year. I think she knew she made state her first two years and really wanted to do even better at state this year, and she did do that," Heck said.
St. Pierre swam the anchor leg of the Hodags' 200 medley and freestyle relays at state and missed qualifying for state in the 100 breaststroke by 0.18 seconds.
"(Noelle) played such an important role in our success this season with the improvements she made," Heck noted.
Heck credited Miller's perseverance in presenting the Hodag award. The senior missed a large portion of the season after undergoing knee surgery, but returned in time for the Great Northern Conference and sectional meets. Miller's highlight was reaching the podium with an eighth-place finish in the 100 butterfly at conference.
"She continued be a great captain through all of that, which is hard to do," Heck said. "When you're hurt, injured and you want to be swimming - and she could see all the kids getting faster, getting excited, having fun, and she couldn't partake. She never let that (disappointment) show on her face. She had a great attitude and we were delighted she was able to swim the conference meet."
Heck noted Fugle's improvement in the 100 freestyle, which earned her a spot on the team's 400 freestyle relay squad for sectionals. Fugle, a freshman, broke a minute in her leg of the relay as the Hodags finished sixth and secured the sectional title by one point over Rice Lake.
"Genna really had a great year. She swam this summer and she comes in to the season with a 1:07 in the 100 freestyle, which I think is pretty solid for a girl who hasn't swam much before," Heck said. "She just kept getting faster and faster - not just in the freestyle, but in everything. At the end, she made the sectional 400 freestyle relay and went 59 seconds, so going from 1:07 to 59 seconds is quite a big improvement."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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