Emergence of Molly Hannis As Skins Weapon Vital to Cali Condors’ Rise

Molly Hannis (photo: Mike Lewis)
Molly Hannis; Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

Emergence of Molly Hannis As Skins Weapon Vital to Cali Condors’ Rise

In all five of their International Swimming League matches this season, the Cali Condors have won the women’s medley relay and chosen the stroke for the skins race. Four of those times, they’ve opted for breaststroke.

The reason, largely, is Lilly King, who took until her 31st breaststroke race in the ISL to be handed her first loss. But just as a big a reason for the endurance of breaststroke skins is the thunder to King’s lightning, Molly Hannis, who’s played an understatedly large role in the Condors rolling into this weekend’s ISL Grand Final as the league’s only unbeaten team.

Hannis the one who finally handed the queen of breaststroke her first loss, upending her Condors teammate in Match 10 in the 50 breast. Hannis would do it again in the second semifinal.

Whichever of the ‘Dors gets to the wall first, Hannis knows that big points are in the offing.

Lilly King and Molly Hannis (photo: Mike Lewis)

Lilly King and Molly Hannis; Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS/ISL

“It’s always fun to race Lilly, and it’s fun to go into the race and know that you’ve got two really great breaststrokers and you feel like it’s going to be a lot of points for the Condors no matter what,” Hannis told Swimming World Thursday. “Having Lilly there is great, and to me, I just look at it as lots of points for the Condors when you have to two really strong swimmers in the event.”

Hannis holds the third-fastest time in ISL this season in the 50 breast (29.04 seconds) and fifth-fastest in the 100 breast (1:04.32), a slight change in expertise given that the 28-year-old American qualified for the Rio Olympics in the 200 breast. She holds the 17th-fastest time in that event this season.

Most impressive is how Hannis has summoned the speed to rise to the skins occasion. In the four matches that the Condors’ have opted for breaststroke, King and Hannis have gone 1-2 three times, including in Match 10 and Semifinal 2. (In the other meet, Hannis failed to emerge from the first round in Match 8, with London Roar’s Alia Atkinson going on to finish runner-up to King.)

Hannis credits the mentality of just racing in those events, and the combination of her speed this year and her historical endurance serve her well.

“I’ve had a couple of opportunities to do it and it’s so fun,” she said. “Part of me thinks of it a little bit like three 50s all out in practice. There are some games that can be played with it – how fast do I really need to go? Do I have to go all out on all three? But at the end of the day, I’m aiming for three 50s as fast as I can go in all three.”

All those skins races have Hannis high up in the season MVP standings. Through the semifinals, she’s 33rd in MVP points accumulated. That ranks sixth on the Condors deep and talented squad and 19th among women’s swimmers.

Hannis credits the elite training environment in the Budapest bubble with gearing her up for races. Though many of the factions of the Condors remain on their own training plans, brought from their groups back home, there’s a certain diffusion of seeing each other go so fast in the practice pool day after day.

One strain of that comes from her alma mater: Hannis is one of many University of Tennessee grads tearing it up in ISL. Kira Toussaint is the obvious headliner, the London Roar swimmer having set the world record in the 50 back in the first semifinal. But Tessa Cieplucha impressed in her debut season for the Toronto Titans, Maddy Banic is a big part of Energy Standard’s quest for a second title and Hannis’ teammate Erika Brown is a valuable relay cog for Cali.

While communication between teams is limited in the bubble to chance encounters in the hallway, the training pool or cafeteria, Hannis has enjoyed watching her fellow Volunteers flourish.

“Really what’s been fun is if you’re not at the same meet, is to pull up the livestream and watch some of those other girls kill it in the other meets that the Condors are not competing in,” the two-time NCAA champ said. “Getting to watch Tessa just swim really well in the 4IM and Kira break the world record and Maddy Banic has been on fire. So it’s been fun to watch the livestream and see how well they’ve been doing.”

Molly Hannis is optimistic that the fun won’t stop yet for the Condors. With five wins from five meets, they enter the Grand Final perhaps as slight favorites. With Atkinson and Energy Standard’s Benedetta Pilato stocking the pool for a star-studded breaststroke field, Hannis might have a big say in keeping the roll going.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “I feel like we’ve set ourselves up pretty well. We haven’t lost a match, and hopefully just can continue that heading into the final.”

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