Nov. 15—MINNEAPOLIS — Aubrey Schueler knows there's no margin for error this week.
The Willmar junior is the Cardinals' lone qualifier for the Class A girls state swimming and diving championships, competing in the 50-yard freestyle.
Just how thin is the margin between success and chaos in that event? Schueler got to state after a lifetime-best time of 24.89 seconds, beating the state standard by a tenth of a second (24.99).
"In a 50, everything just has to be perfect," Schueler said. "So I was looking for a fast start and a fast turn. There was definitely more adrenaline for (the section) finals because I knew that I was that close.
"Going into the race, I was definitely a lot more nervous, which made me go faster."
When the state meet gets underway this week at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center — with diving prelims Wednesday, swim prelims Thursday and the championship races Friday — every millisecond matters. Seeded 16th in the 26-woman field, a tenth of a second is the difference between Schueler sitting in 11th or falling to 19th and missing out on the final day of state.
"It's a very realistic goal for her to get in the top 16," said Willmar head swim coach Carl Shuldes. "It's hundredths of a second at that point. If she can drop event just a little bit of time, she can move up three or four spots. A couple hundredths more, she might drop a couple places like that.
"It's really kind of a total crap shoot."
But if there's anyone for the Cardinals that can handle the razor-thin margins, it's Schueler. The first attribute that Shuldes praises on Schueler is her mental toughness.
"She's just so mentally strong," Shuldes said. "She's an experienced enough swimmer that she knows to get herself ready and in the right frame of mind."This is Schueler's second trip to state after making it as part of the Cardinals' 4x200 freestyle relay last season.
"I definitely know what to expect this year, which is really nice," she said. "And I know how everything works. But it will definitely be different because I'm going individually this year instead of in a relay, but it'll be very similar. And I think I have a chance of going to the second day."
At the start of the year, it didn't take Schueler long to hit the times she was swimming at the end of her sophomore year. As fatigue set in, she started slowing down, adding to her nervousness before tapering prior to the end of the season.
"I was really hoping that with the rest and everything, at sections the times would drop so much more because of how exhausted I was," Schueler said. "My seasons always kind of go in that same pattern from the beginning of the season to the end."
Another trend that Shuldes and assistant coach Hannah Arnold saw was her improvement from section qualifying to the finals.
"I think 25.7 or 25.6 was her best time coming in ... and then she swam a 25.1 in the prelim," Shuldes said. "Hannah and I looked back at the previous couple of years' results and see, OK, how has Aubrey done from prelims to finals? And every year, Aubrey has swam a little faster in the finals than she did in the prelims. We were cautiously optimistic that she could continue that trend.
"And sure enough, she did."
Everything will come fast for Schueler and the rest of the 50 freestyle field, including Minnewaska/Morris senior McKenzie Luetmer, who's the 21st seed after placing as runner-up in the Section 6A meet at 25.02. The top seed belongs to Monticello eighth-grader Adalynn Biegler at 23.58.
Schueler knocked out one personal best at the section meet. The goal Thursday — and hopefully Friday — is to break another and get into the top 16 and swim the final day.
"I'd like to definitely be under 25 (seconds); I think that I got quite a bit left," Schueler said. "I feel like my taper wasn't fully completed. Hopefully these next few days, I can get even more rest and it can just come out even more at state and I can get a better time than I did at (section) finals, hopefully."