Rhinelander's Francis focused on state championship goalsSubmitted: 08/23/2016

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RHINELANDER - For years, Kiah Francis has been outpacing her competition in the pool, but she owes her success to more than just talent.

"It's definitely her drive, like I said training on her own and being willing to drive an hour to Wausau all her life," said Rhinelander varsity swim coach Lindsay Byrka.

Francis takes those hour-long drives to Wausau to train with the Wausau Tide Swim Club. 

It's not uncommon for high school athletes to train or play for secondary teams, but for Francis, high school hasn't been part of the everyday routine.

"I'm home-schooled; I just take one class at the high school," said Francis.

And Francis has embraced the home schooling aspect of her life.

"I was able to go at my own pace and figure things out, and it really taught me independence, and I was able to swim on my own time," said Francis. "I kind of grew up around that and it's really been paying off, and I wouldn't have had it any other way."

And those benefits have helped her to become one of the best swimmers in Rhinelander history.

"She can swim anything," said Byrka. "She already has four varsity records that she broke last year, and I hope she can take down the other four this year."

Those other four records belong to Byrka herself, a former Rhinelander High School state champion.

But Francis has her sights set on something greater than her coach's records.

At last year's state meet, Francis narrowly lost a pair of races.

She says her goal this is year is to return to that stage and finish at the top of the podium this time.
"The goal is to win two state championships and also bring relays," said Francis.

Byrka says Francis is a favorite to win a state title.

"Kiah and I are on the same page that we want that state championship," said Byrka. "It's been a goal since she came into the program last year, and she was out-touched just barely by a couple of seniors. That makes her the person to beat this year."

The training to achieve that goal is certainly unique, showing everyone the kind of competitor Francis is.

"We get her to mix up her sets," Byrka said. "When the girls are doing freestyle, she'll race them in breaststroke. That's just the kind of person Kiah is--she doesn't care what is in the lane next to her. She wants to win."
Francis says she will continue swimming after high school for several reasons.

"I'm going to swim in college for sure. It will help me to get school paid for, and that's been the goal, that's kind of why I've been doing it, but I also love it," said Francis. "I love swimming, so being able to swim in college and get it paid for is a little extra."

Francis has gotten attention from several Division I programs such as the University of Nebraska and Liberty University in Virginia.

She and the Hodags begin their conference schedule next Tuesday at Lakeland Union High School.

Story By: Mark Spillane

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