Veteran Whitefish Bay girls swimming coach Jim Davis knew there was a reason why the Blue Dukes beat their heads against the wall in the highly competitive North Shore Conference time and again.
So they can have moments like they did on Nov. 5, when at New Berlin Eisenhower, they qualified four individuals and three relays for the WIAA D2 state meet in winning their first sectional title since 2009.
"I'm so proud of how these kids competed," said Davis. "We pound against Cedarburg, we pound against Homestead and we battle against Nicolet just for something like this. This meet went back and forth, so for us to hold on and keep our position was very impressive."
Bay state qualifiers will take part in the WIAA D2 state meet at the UW-Madison Natatorium at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11.
Blue Dukes advancing to state include Lydia Barnes in the 200-yard freestyle, Heather Smallpage in the 50 free and Ines Bengana in the 200 free and the 500-yard free.
In addition, the 200 medley relay team of Kate Murphy, Gretchen Grams, Sara Desing and Smallpage; the 200 free relay of Barnes, Ceci Hutt, Bengana and Smallpage; and the 400 free relay of Barnes, Hutt, Grams and Bengana will also take part at state.
Dukes win title
Those qualifying efforts led the Blue Dukes to a 317.5-point total, which edged Woodland Conference champ and host Eisenhower (302) for the title in the 13-team sectional.
"It was a scramble of a meet," Davis said. "We knew that Eisenhower and Whitnall (third with 246 points) would be in the hunt, but we went in there thinking we could win it. I was pretty confident that we could, but we got some absolutely phenomenal performances."
Bay went into the meet with only two No. 1 seeds and came away with only one event victory, the 200 free relay, as the group dropped about three seconds to win in 1:41.37.
Davis said it was the fourth-place 200 medley team (2.5-second season best of 1:54.97) that got the meet off to a really good start, and then efforts from Bengana in fourth (1:58.7) and Barnes in fifth (1:59.47) in the 200 free really solidified the Blue Dukes' contender status.
"Both of them dropped an unbelievable amount of time," Davis said.
Smallpage, a senior and quiet leader on the team, earned her spot in the 50 with a runner-up best time of 25.04. Davis said the team could not do without her.
"She's very quiet and personable," Davis said. "The other girls look up to her because of the example she sets and for just how competitive she is."
Bengana earned her 500 free spot with a 13-second drop, good for third (5:19.74), while the 400 free relay got to state by dropping six seconds from its season best to earn third (3:44.16).
Davis had confidence the meet-ending 400 free relay would do well and secure the team title.
"I thought the only way we could lose was if we were to DQ (in that race)," he said.
Key to victory
A key to the meet, Davis added, was the fact that the Blue Dukes were able to counteract Eisenhower's six first-place finishes with better depth.
"The kids were really focused on where they were in their races," Davis said. "They needed to know if we were to have a chance. We had a lot of top-eight finishes."
Davis also praised the effort of Bengana, who is the only Bay qualifier in four events.
Other notable finishes for the Blue Dukes included the following: 200 individual medley: Desing, ninth (PR 2:21.97); 50 free: Grams, sixth (PR 25.84); 100 butterfly: Desing, seventh (PR 1:03.31), Emma Harris, eighth (PR 1:04.2); 100 free: Smallpage, sixth (PR 56.22), Barnes, seventh (56.32), Grams, eighth (PR 56.33); 500 free: Wynne D'Souza, ninth (PR 5:41.39); 100 backstroke: Murphy, fifth (PR 1:02.4), Hutt, seventh (PR 1:02.88), Harris, eighth (PR 1:04.17); and 100 breaststroke: Allie Longacre, fourth (PR 1:12.0), Libby Muth, seventh (PR 1:13.64).
'We took 12 girls to this meet, and they all contributed," Davis said. "What I've been most impressed with this year is what phenomenal teammates they've been to each other. That's what's made it so exciting. I've never seen such a grateful bunch."