Central duo relishes state swim experience

Junior Zoe McNeill (left) and sophomore Mackenzie Thomas, both Westosha Central representatives, meet up before the duo heads to the WIAA Division 1 State Swimming and Diving Championships as members of the Lake Geneva Badger co-op swim program (Submitted/The Report).

Thomas collects three medals as Badger Co-op finishes sixth

By Jason Arndt

Westosha Central sophomore Mackenzie Thomas and junior Zoe McNeill played critical roles for the Badger Co-op swim team in 2021 WIAA State Division 1 Girls Swimming and Diving Championships Saturday at the Waukesha South High School Natatorium.

The Co-op swim team, coming off a second-place sectional finish, scored 148 total points in the WIAA State Meet to take sixth among 41 participating schools.

Overall, according to Thomas, the members of the team came away pleased with the performance because it marked an improvement from 2020.

“We were pretty happy. Last year, we came in ninth,” said Thomas, adding the bulk of the team will return for 2022.

“Next year, we are definitely going to go higher and keep improving.”

Brookfield East, which shattered multiple state records, captured its third consecutive state team championship.

As for Thomas, she collected three medals to match her freshman performance in the state meet.

The top six swimmers in each event earn medals.

Thomas, McNeill make mark
In the 200-yard freestyle relay, Thomas joined McNeill, sophomore Sailor Whowell and junior anchor Callie Ceshker to place second at 1 minute, 34.95 seconds, just behind new state record-holder Brookfield East (1:31.13).

McNeill, a three-time state qualifier, said her 200 freestyle relay team wanted to have fun during the meet.

“We made it this far, so we were like, let’s go out there and just give it our all and have fun,” said McNeill.

Thomas, earlier in the final round, helped the 200-yard medley relay team of Whowell, junior Addi Nelson and Ceshker finish fourth at 1:45.81.

McNeill and Thomas each said Ceshker had a considerable role as anchor of both medal-winning relay teams.

“When she catches the wall, you know it is going to be a good finish,” Thomas said of Ceshker.

But, according to Thomas, the 100-yard breaststroke was the most challenging since the WIAA scheduled the event near the end of the State Meet.

“Going into it, I was pretty nervous, actually,” Thomas said. “I was kind of tired.”

Despite some nerves, and a bit of fatigue, she persevered.

Thomas, who placed fourth last year, achieved the same placement while achieving a career best time of 1:03.93.

“That is the fastest I have ever gone, so that was pretty exciting,” she said.

Thomas, meanwhile, said her three-medal performance as a sophomore left her satisfied considering she achieved the same mark last year.

“I got three medals last year and I got three medals this year, which is pretty awesome, I am pretty happy with it,” said Thomas.

As a freshman, Thomas earned medals in the 50 freestyle (third, 23.42) and 200 freestyle relay with McNeill, graduated senior Lauren O’Brien and Ceshker (second, 1:35.16).

Other Badger co-op swimmers earning medals include sophomore Wylde Chupich (second, 1-meter diving, 427.40) and Sailor Whowell (fifth, 50 freestyle, 23:36; fifth, 100 backstroke, 56.53).

Thomas also qualified in the 50 freestyle, where she finished seventh (23.69) and contributed to the team score, ahead of Ceshker’s 10th place performance (23.98).

Ceshker additionally contributed to the team’s final points in the 100 freestyle with a 12th place finish (52.29).

Balanced team
McNeill called the 2021 appearance memorable considering how much the team put into the season.

“We had a really long season, but we really came together as a team, which brought us up to this point,” McNeill said.

Thomas concurred, adding she and others contributed multiple hours during practices, with the team reaping the rewards at the state meet.

“This season we put in so much work into practices and everything,” Thomas said. “This shows how much hard work we put in and that is really awesome.”

“It was really exciting. Overall, it was just a really fun experience,” McNeill added.

Worth the journey
Badger co-op consists of representatives from Central, Wilmot, Walworth Big Foot and Williams Bay.

For Central and Wilmot students, the journey to Badger is long, especially considering practices and competitions to places such as Whitewater, Jefferson and even Platteville.

“It is definitely a pretty big commitment and is a pretty far drive,” McNeill said.

But the journey is worth it, McNeill noted, adding she has formed strong bonds with teammates such as Thomas.