STAPLES -- Abby Palmer is only a ninth-grader, but the Staples-Motley/Verndale/Wadena-Deer Creek swim coach Bruce Onischuk is hoping she's a trend setter.
Palmer is the first person in the young program's history to advance to the Class A state swim tournament Nov. 20-22 at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.
Palmer qualified by placing second in the 100-yard breaststroke at the Section 3A meet Saturday with a time of 1:11.29. This came after she actually dropped a spot in the preliminary races.
Palmer was ranked second going into the prelims but fell to third after finishing with a time of 1:12.11. She was behind Eva Miller, the eventual winner, from Sartell and Autumn Hensel, also from Sartell.
In the final race Palmer beat Hensel by .56 tenths of a second to advance to her first state tournament.
"It's getting better and better every hour," Palmer said about advancing. "I'm still kind of in denial.
"I was hoping and praying that I would get it and I was coming into my last turn and I saw that I was in second and I had so much emotion going though my head. I didn't cry, I was just happy.
"I had qualified two or three times before with my time so I've been working really hard in practice and visualizing and all that stuff."
The versatile swimmer was fourth in the section meet last year but the success came as no surprise to her coach.
"She's able to deal with anything that's thrown at her," said Onischuk. "She can go in there with a bad knee and still get things done. She doesn't let stuff bother her. She's very supportive of her teammates.
"She seems to have an incredible feel for the water. She's real smart. She's a 4.0 student and that helps. She learns so fast."
Palmer was third in the 200 individual medley, missing the cut by 1.2 seconds. She was part of the 400 freestyle relay that placed fourth and the 200 medley relay that was sixth.
During the 200 individual medley she broke her own school record with a time of 2:22.89. Onischuk said the amazing part wasn't that she broke the record, it was that she shattered it.
"She went into the meet with a time of 2:28.42 and then in the prelims she went to a 2:27.08," said Onischuk. "She had just a phenomenal race.
"What she has done throughout the season is also amazing. She holds the record in the 500 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke.
"What I've done with her is I gave her a break from her regular events. Those records are one-time shots and that's without really swimming the race so much."
For Palmer, who grew up swimming at her parents' lake cabin on Woman Lake, swimming has been a part of her life since fourth grade.
But she's not taking anything for granted as she's already working to improve her time at the state meet.
"Tonight (Monday) we're going to start building and getting some yardage and then we'll back off," said Palmer. "I think we're going to work really hard on my turns. My start is as good as it's going to get but we're going to work on my endurance.
"I'm just so pumped. I'm going to do the best I can. As a ninth-grader I'm not expected to do much. I'm looking forward to doing well in the next couple of years."
As far as Onischuk is concerned this couldn't have happened to a better person and he's happy that Palmer is the first person to represent S-M/V/W-DC at the state tournament.
"She's young but very humble," Onischuk said. "She's a gracious winner. Some kids will carry this air about them but she's very humble. She's outgoing and personable and just a very polite young lady.
"She's been at this since sixth grade and what we have seen and what I've experienced is she has gotten better each year. She has gone and had meets where she didn't swim to her expectations. That doesn't bother her and she comes back in practice the next day and refocuses. She doesn't get obsessed with it but she's focused."
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