Every swimmer has her magic number.
For McHenry senior Michaela Matthys, that number was 58.94, the 100-yard butterfly time she needed at the Vernon Hills Sectional to qualify for the state finals for the first time.
It’s an odd number and doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue easily, but swimmers are an odd lot. They compete in a sport that measures success in the minutest of seconds, where a 58.94 gets you to state and a 58.95 doesn’t even get you a ticket to watch state.
Matthys did make her number, obliterated it more accurately, swimming over two seconds faster than the qualifying time with a 56.82. Not only did she make it to state, she recorded the ninth fastest time in the state and has a legitimate shot at swimming on Saturday in a finals heat.
All qualifiers compete on Friday in the preliminary rounds with the top six swimming for the top six places on Saturday and the seventh through 12th places competing in the consolation finals.
Qualifying for state was something Matthys had thought about and even dreamed about for a long time. She even had a dream about getting a 56 and was told by several people that was where she would finish at sectionals.
But after swimming a personal best in the high 58s this season, dropping another two seconds didn’t seem possible.
“Everyone told me that I’d go a 56 and I didn’t believe them,” Matthys said.
“I did not think that I would do that. It gives me a lot more confidence going in.”
A lot more confidence and a new number – 55. That’s where she thinks she needs to be to place in the top six at state. Practicing alone in the McHenry West pool this week, Matthys was reminded of that number by a note on the whiteboard from her club coaches. It simply read ‘55 top 5.’
Recent history bears out that number. The sixth fastest time in the preliminary rounds the past two years has been 55.9.
While Matthys was nervous about making it to state, she is confident about her chances of getting even faster. She said trying to reach a stretch goal was easier than trying to hit a make or break time.
“I’m a lot less nervous this week,” Matthys said. “I don’t have the pressure to make a specific number.”
That confidence is greater because she didn’t feel like she maxed out at sectionals and has swum some practice races this week in the 55s.
“I swam that entire race comfortably,” Matthys said of sectionals. “Now I can go out a little harder.”
Getting faster is the primary goal for Cary-Grove’s Melissa Rose, who qualified in the 100 breaststroke with a personal best 1:05.44 to win the Barrington Sectional. Her time was the 13th fastest in the state.
It’s the third trip to state for Rose, a junior. Her previous two trips did not produce the results she had hoped for, swimming slower at state each year than at sectionals.
Last year, Rose was training to peak at state but got sick the week of state. She still swam an almost identical time as she did at sectionals. This year, she worked to get stronger and is hoping that better conditioning and experience swimming at state will benefit her.
“I trained really hard this summer,” Rose said. “I know what to expect this year.”