Come state tournament time, nothing is more valuable than experience.
At this year's Class 1A state swimming and diving meet, which starts Thursday and runs through Saturday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center, the Staples-Motley/Wadena-Deer Creek/Verndale swimmers won't be surprised by anything they see.
The Cardinals will send three swimmers to state that have a had a taste of big-meet experience.
Junior Abby Palmer will lead the Cardinals and compete at state for the third straight year. She will swim in the 200-yard individual medley for the second straight year and the 100 freestyle for the first time.
Palmer enters the 200 IM with the fourth-best time in 1A at 2:16.2. Cardinals coach Bruce Onischuk believes Palmer can swim with the best the state has to offer.
"Abby's got a pretty good seed," Onischuk said. "But it's a whole new season now. She's going to have to swim fast. She's seeded fourth and she's swimming with the best of the best. Knowing Abby and her ability to focus, she'll do OK."
At last year's state meet, Palmer placed 13th in the 200 IM and 14th in the 100 breaststroke. This year, standing on the medal podium on the final day is well within her grasp.
"Abby will have to swim her seed time," Onischuk said, "and possibly a little quicker. The top eight will swim fast so she may have to take her race out quicker."
Britta Binek, another junior, will also compete individually for the Cardinals. She will swim in the 200 freestyle for the first time at state.
Onischuk thinks Palmer and Binek have good chances to make it to the second day of competition and have been focusing on that goal during this week's practices.
"We want Britta and Abby to get to the second day," said Onischuk, "no ifs, ands or buts about it. I told the girls, and it was pointed to Abby and Britta, that we're not just happy to be there. We want to go beyond that.
"Sometimes teams and individuals will be just happy to be at state. We want to perform and place and score some points."
The Cardinals' 200 freestyle relay also returns to the state meet. The relay has three returning swimmers from last year's team in Binek, Kendell Spar and Abby Palmer. Freshman Anne Palmer replaces her older sister, Katie Palmer, who graduated.
The relay didn't qualify for the final day at last year's meet and is looking to beat its seed time this year. To Onischuk and the swimmers, that would be a victory.
"Our goal for the 200 relay is to swim faster than our (seed) time," Onischuk said. "If we can swim faster than that, it would be a huge accomplishment for these kids."
Onischuk points to the state meet experience his swimmers bring as an advantage and could help in their success this weekend.
"Their experience is huge," Onischuk said. "The girls are used to swimming in regular high school facilities. Then, when you get down to state, the place is so big it can be intimidating. Our experience will hopefully be a factor."
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