RHS senior to swim at Liberty University
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Kiah Francis made her plans to swim at the Division I collegiate level official Wednesday when she signed a national letter of intent to attend Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
The Rhinelander High School senior, who closed out her high school swimming career Friday when she won a pair of Division 2 individual state titles competing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Natatorium, was surrounded by family members along with Hodags head swimming coach Lindsay Byrka for the formal signing ceremony in the RHS Digital Media Center.
“Swimming in high school has been like everything I could have ever wanted,” Francis said. “My family has been so supportive. They’ve driven me to so many meets. My mom taught me how to swim ever since I was little. I’ve had my siblings to swim with throughout the years.”
Byrka said Francis handled the attention she received en route to being this year’s Division 2 girls state champion in the 200-yard individual medley and 100 breaststroke “with such grace like you have and such humility in honoring everybody else.”
“You never talk about yourself,” Byrka said. “You only talk about everybody else around, and that’s what makes you super special.”
RHS activities director Brian Paulson thanked Francis for the last two years swimming for the Hodags, in which she also placed runner-up at state in the same two events her junior season.
“I think your desire, your hard work, your commitment, your dedication and your winning your two gold medals is deserving,” Paulson said. “By doing that, you have put yourself among the greats at Rhinelander.”
During her senior season, Francis had missed some of the early meets while going on recruiting trips before deciding on attending Liberty University.
“I had a lot of opportunities to swim at those larger schools, in Power 5 conferences, but the more I learned about Liberty and the recruiting process, the more that I saw that Liberty offers everything that those big schools do. They offer that elite level DI swimming, and that’s exactly what I was looking for.
“The facilities there are incredible. They’re actually building a new facility there next year for the swim program. The academics are fantastic. It’s like everything I ever wanted in a school, so I just feel really blessed to be a part of the swim program. It’s very new, also. They’re on the rise. They’re going to be recruiting fast swimmers with this new pool, and I’m just excited to be a part of it.”
Francis, who also has been involved in club swimming with the Wausau TIDE, said making the transition to the college level will involve a higher volume of swimming than what she has been used to.
“I’m confident that I’m prepared to take on that challenge of college swimming and balancing academics along with that,” she said. “Homeschooling has taught me to be very independent, so I’m able to kind of balance my time very well.”
Francis, who noted she will be able to get her college education paid for with the scholarship she was offered, said she is planning to major in exercise science at Liberty University.
“I thought about physical therapy, occupational therapy, there are many routes I could take with that,” she said. “I’m kind of declared in that, but I could change my major as I go on. I love writing, I’m very creative, and so I’m trying to figure out the best major for me.”
Francis said swimming year-round, as opposed to being a three-sport athlete during the school year, made it possible for her to become a Division I swimmer in college.
“If you want to swim at this level, you have to swim year-round – there’s no way around it,” she said. “You’ll build your aerobic capacity, and practicing just really helps you get to that elite level….
“I’ve always swum year-round. I only take two weeks off at the most each year, each at different times. I try to get to the pool, even if it’s just me swimming by myself. I swim at the YMCA of the Northwoods all the time with my brother. It’s a big commitment on my family’s part not to be able to be with a consistent program, but that’s what I’ve had to do over the years to drop time and get to where I am.”
While attending Liberty University, Francis said she would like to be able to qualify for the 2020 Olympic trials.
“The 2020 Olympics are right before my senior year, so my goal is to qualify for Olympic trials, go through my senior year of college and then end there,” she said. “That’s kind of how I envision it right now.”