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Swimming & Diving: Cardinals intent on making finals

In years past, the Willmar boys swimming team will tell you that they went into the Minnesota State Swimming and Diving Meet just glad to have made it that far.

This year, things are a little different.

When the Class A swimming competition begins on Friday at noon, the Cardinals will have their eyes set on qualifying for the finals on Saturday.

"That was kind of the goal last year, to get down there," Willmar head coach Carl Shuldes said. "Now they know the disappointment of getting down there and not moving on to Saturday's races. I think they're going in mentally ready to race."

Competing for the Cardinals individually will be Mateo Marin-Mera in the 200 yard IM, Garrett Shuldes in the 50 and 100-yard freestyles, Ayden Schueller in the 500 yard freestyle. The 200 freestyle relay of Jacob Meyer, Ethan Kubesh, Marin-Mera and Shuldes as well as the 400 freestyle relay of Meyer, Schueler, Marin-Mera and Shuldes will also be competing.

Out of up-to-24 qualifiers in each event, 16 advance to compete on Saturday. The top eight from the prelims race are locked into the championship heat, meaning they can't finish below eighth place.

A year ago, Willmar scored in just one of its five events at state, with Shuldes picking up 3.5 points in 50-yard freestyle.

"We're hoping to get everyone through to Saturday," coach Shuldes said. "Mateo and Ayden are sitting just outside the top 16, but they're close. Mateo less than a second in his race and Aidan in his 500 is 4 seconds, so that's not a whole lot of time in that race. Nobody in the top eight right now, but both relays have a good shot and Garrett is close in both of his races."

This weekend also represents the final chance for Carl to coach his son Garrett, a senior.

"It has hit me, but I really am trying to keep that away from him,"Carl said. " I don't want him dwelling on that. I think it's actually been harder on Lynn, my wife. We don't want him to get caught up in that whole thing until Saturday. Then we can be happy and sad together."

Garrett, as Carl mentioned, has a chance to earn a medal by reaching the championship heats on Saturday. His qualifying time in the 50-yard freestyle is just tenths of a second out of the eighth-best time, and he currently sits in ninth place in the 200-yard freestyle, just one-tenth of a second out of eighth.

Qualifying in six different races has been a great reward for Carl as a coach, and it's made only sweeter to see Garrett succeed.

"It's very exciting to be able to coach your own kid and see him have the success that he's had," Shuldes said. "I'm no more excited for him than I am for the other guys, but I feel a little extra pressure or nerves as a parent."

Over the years, Carl says he has learned how to manage being both Coach and Dad.

"As a coach, I understand it's out of my hands at this point and they're going to do what they do," Shuldes said. "As a parent, though, it's a challenge. I try not to talk about it too much at home. I don't want to flood him with tips and pointers all the time. He needs a chance to be able to get away from swimming."

Willmar will travel down to the Freeman Aquatic Center on the University of Minnesota's campus for a pre-meet practice on Thursday in the morning. From there, it's all about finding a balance between relaxing and not lying around too much.

And shaving—don't forget about the shaving.

"Taking off that every little bit of hair does something," Carl said. "I don't know what it is. Maybe it's mental, just knowing that you're doing everything you can to do your best. But it does something."