Behind the scenes: Gabriela Pierobon Mays comes back from injury to help Middleton win its third consecutive girls swimming title
In her first two years in high school, Middleton’s Gabriela Pierobon Mays won titles in the 100-yard butterfly at the WIAA Division 1 state girls swimming and diving championship at the University of Wisconsin Natatorium.
But this past February, during her sophomore year, Pierobon Mays didn’t know if her stellar swimming career could or would continue.
In fact, she said she didn’t know if she wanted to continue.
She sustained a right shoulder injury from overuse, she said. Surgery was needed in February to repair a torn labrum and other damage, which required removal of bone in the back half of the shoulder, she said.
Pierobon Mays was so downcast about the injury and after the surgery that she said she considered giving up the sport.
“Many times,” she said, when asked if she thought about quitting.
She said she wondered, “What’s the point?”
But despite being sidelined more than half the year, Pierobon Mays decided to return to swimming after receiving support from her family, teammates and friends.
The point, she discovered, was to swim for the Cardinals.
“I’m swimming for my team,” she said. “What can I do for my team?”
She had her struggles during the season, but came through in the final high school meet.
On Saturday, the Cardinals’ junior helped lead Middleton to its third consecutive WIAA Division 1 state championship. Middleton finished first with 249.50 points, while Cedarburg was runner-up with 188.
Cardinals senior Hannah Aegerter won the 500 freestyle and Middleton’s 200 freestyle relay claimed first, as the Cardinals used their depth and ability to swim above their sectional seed times.
“I was told I would be lucky to be able to swim my high school season,” Pierobon Mays said after the Cardinals took a celebratory dip in the UW Natatorium pool after receiving the first-place trophy Saturday. “I’m really lucky to be here and to swim in this meet. I did feel the best I have this year.”
Pierobon Mays’ sectional times left her in the second of three heats for the 100 butterfly and the 100 backstroke. Her goal was to swim fast, move up and score as many points as she could.
Middleton coach Lauren Cabalka, knowing the team’s 400 freestyle relay had been disqualified for a false start at sectionals, shuffled her other two relays at the state meet. Cabalka asked Pierobon Mays to swim in the 200 freestyle relay.
“If it was going to help my team, that’s all I wanted,” Pierobon Mays said.
The goal was clear.
“Our whole team, we wanted a third (title),” Pierobon Mays said.
So how did it unfold for her?
Pierobon Mays, sophomore Ally Silvestri, Aegerter and junior Berkley Smith finished second behind Verona/Mount Horeb in the opening 200 medley relay.
Pierobon Mays then wound up fourth in the 100 butterfly, coming out of the second heat with a time of 55.28 seconds.
After Aegerter claimed the 500 freestyle, Pierobon Mays, Smith, Aegerter and senior Makenna Licking won the next event – the 200 free relay (1 minute, 34.24 seconds). Those two victories helped Middleton pull away in the team race.
The 100 backstroke was the next event and Pierobon Mays’ time (55.78 seconds) in the second heat was good for fourth place and 15 more points for her team. (Pierobon Mays’ longtime friend, Madison West senior Katrina Marty, finished second in the backstroke and the butterfly.)
The Cardinals built a big lead, making the final 400 freestyle relay a non-factor in any team catching Middleton.
“That’s what our goal was – to be (at least) 40.5 points ahead before the 400 free relay and we did that,” said Aegerter,who has committed to the University of Illinois. “That (500 freestyle) race for me, it was my last individual (race) ever for high school swimming. I just wanted to get more points for the team.”
Pierobon Mays said she was proud of the fight the Cardinals demonstrated.
Said Cabalka: “We swam at our best (Saturday) and I’m really proud of them.”
That included Pierobon Mays, whose difficult year ended with a relay victory and another team title.
“Man, did she deliver,” Cabalka said.