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Wenger sisters are Hanover swimming’s twin powers

  • Hanover High sisters Grace Wenger, left, and Maggie Wenger have been racking up the victories for the Marauders as well as the Upper Valley Aquatic Club swim team lately. The two will try to bring a third straight NHIAA Division II state championship back to Hanover this weekend.

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 2/13/2020 10:02:45 PM
Modified: 2/13/2020 10:02:34 PM

HANOVER — Isabel Brennan was running out of opportunities.

The senior on the Hanover High swim team had been working all season to beat the 200-yard freestyle qualifying time for the NHIAA Division II state meet and had only two regular-season meets left. Then, on Jan. 31, at the second-to-last meet at Carter Community Building Association’s Dwinell Pool in Lebanon, Brennan achieved her goal, bringing excited cheers and later hugs from several teammates when Brennan climbed out of the water.

Moments like those are what twin sisters Grace and Maggie Wenger say they will cherish the most after their high school and Upper Valley Aquatic Center swimming careers come to an end this year.

“It will definitely be the people,” Grace said during a recent interview at UVAC. “We have made such amazing friendships on the high school and UVAC teams.”

“It will be hard to say goodbye to the coaches and friends we have made and not seeing them in the pool nearly every day,” added Maggie.

The Wengers have been part of the last two NHIAA Division II swimming and diving state championships for Hanover and, on Saturday, the Marauders will look to make it three in a row at the University of New Hampshire’s Swasey Pool.

“It will be a lot of fun,” Maggie said. “We have new qualifiers this year.”

Hanover High School swimming has grown from a club team 10 years ago with about a dozen athletes to a varsity sport with more than 40 competitors this year, dominating the meets in the Upper Valley.

Grace, who will swim for Bates College next year, said freestyle and butterfly are her best strokes, while for Maggie it’s freestyle and backstroke.

At last year’s state meet, Grace won the 100-yard butterfly and placed third in the 200 freestyle; Maggie won the 100 free and was fourth in the 200 free. Both swam on the winning 400 freestyle relay team with Emma Dunbar and Jocelyn Hazen, both juniors.

“They put in a lot of effort and time,” said Hanover coach Fritz Bedford, himself a masters-level swim champion. “You can’t just jump in the pool and do what they do right off the bat. Their work ethic is wonderful.”

The Wengers, 17, were born in North Carolina, and when they were 5, the family moved to Hanover.

The twins took up competitive swimming around age 10 when the older sister of a friend persuaded them to join the team at Lebanon’s CCBA. Two years later, they joined UVAC.

“In the beginning, we got pretty good really fast and were hooked,” Maggie said. “We kept training, and our times were dropping.”

Grace said she and Maggie stuck with swimming, as much for their love of the sport as for the friendships forged.

“It just becomes part of you,” Grace said. “I guess a lot of it has been the people. We have made some really strong bonds.”

Whether with Hanover or UVAC, the Wengers said their coaches are a big reason for their dedication, not only for their teaching abilities but for the team atmosphere they have created.

“You are not going to come here if you are surrounded by people you don’t like,” said Maggie, who will swim for St. Lawrence University next year.

Besides Bedford and his wife Linda, the Hanover staff includes Sean Uiterwyk, Jen Hoode and Carl Renshaw, who is also the Marauders’ diving coach.

Bedford said they wanted an inclusive culture that encouraged athletes of all abilities. To achieve that, coaches a focus on an integrated team approach, with experienced swimmers helping teammates with such things as flip turns.

“It a nice way to interact with everyone,” Grace said. “It benefits the whole team.”

That unity can pay dividends at the state meet, Bedford said, because championships are not won by individuals but in the “trenches” with teammates.

“Building that culture has taken time, and also buy-in, from everyone. Our athletes have bought in, and that is very gratifying to me, Linda, Sean, Jen and Carl,” Bedford said.

State meet preview: Hanover will be sending a team of 13 girls and eight boys to the state meet.

In addition to the Wengers, Brennan, Dunbar and Hazen, the Marauders will be represented by Chantelle Rafie, Lia Stewart, Reilly Uiterwyk and Ava Winchester, who like Stewart is a first-time qualifier.

The 400 freestyle relay team of the Wengers, Dunbar and Hazen has taken first the last two years.

“I think they really will be challenged this year,” Bedford said.

Five of Hanover’s seven athletes on last year’s boys team graduated, meaning Chris Rieseberg and Benton Cesanek were the only two likely to go back to the state meet at the start of the season.

“I was worried about the relays, because you can’t have a relay with two swimmers,” Bedford said.

Hanover has since produced five first-time qualifiers: Kieran Artman, Aidan Lackstrom, Jackson Nelson, Andres Savellano and Carsten Spaeth. Junior Brian Tso also qualified but did not swim last year.

The diving team has four girls: Sophia May (first-time qualifier) Nika Renshaw Emma Sablan and Amelia Wallis. Diving competition opens the state meet on Friday night at UNH.

“Without the divers, we would not have won last year,” Maggie said. “Amelia (Wallis) is amazing.”

Swimming for Lebanon at the state meet will be Aidan Urnezis, Zethan Moss and Marissa Hebert.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

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