The far wall at Northdale Middle School Pool is adorned with a series of record boards. Among them, the historic performances for the Coon Rapids girls swimming and diving team.
By hand, the individual letters and numbers are replaced each time an old record falls: event, name, record time.
One by one, the names and times began steadily changing five years ago.
The times continue to move.
The names no longer do.
Megan Schultze has set – and reset – Coon Rapids school records 19 times, now holding all eight individual swimming event best times. Throw in having a part in all three Cardinal relay records and an assortment of records at various pools, and it has been an unforgettable, historic career for the all-state standout.
Starting her senior year, Schultze shows no signs of slowing down, adding a pair of Northwest Suburban Conference records in the 200 and 500 freestyle to her resume in the Cardinals’ first meet of the season.
“Her first pool record was in 2017 at a meet in St. Peter, and since then she has broken or reset 11 pool records in total and currently holds at least one pool record at St. Peter, Park Center, Champlin Park and Northdale,” Coon Rapids head coach Doug Donaldson said. “She also now has two Northwest Suburban Conference regular season records. The last three or four years have really been an onslaught of records and a lot of fun to watch as a coach, because it seems like every meet she goes she has a chance to make history.”
It is a process that began at the end of Schultze’s seventh grade season, as she set the school record in the 100 breaststroke at the section meet. It was apparent then that big things were in store. Just how big, though, few could imagine.
“That definitely set a tone for the future,” Donaldson said. “It was evident from day one that she was not your typical seventh grader in terms of talent, work ethic and mental fortitude. There was no question that she was going to rewrite a lot of Coon Rapids swimming and diving history, but I will admit that when she said she wanted to break all of the school records, there were a couple records that I wasn’t sure she would be able to break.
“To Megan’s credit, she has worked incredibly hard on her weaknesses and had to really fight through issues with her freestyle technique and race strategies to be able to actually make a run at the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle records. She also had to make a lot of progress in her backstroke to be able to break that record as well, and now she’s made so much progress in all of those events, she could be top eight in the state in any one of them.”
Already an all-conference swimmer and school record-holder as a seventh-grader, Schultze quickly began progressing even more. A conversation with Donaldson prior to her sophomore year, one in which she requested tougher training and more challenging workouts, set the stage for her climb to all-state status.
“If that’s not a humbling conversation as a coach, I don’t know what is,” Donaldson said. “I know without a doubt that coaching Megan has made me a better coach. I’ve spent hours researching new ideas for practices, techniques, etc., all in the pursuit of making myself a better coach so that she continues to progress on our team rather than regress. As Megan’s coach, I am able to say, ‘I coached her,’ but most of the time it was actually Megan pushing me to be a better coach. So in that sense, not only has she meant a lot to the team, but she’s meant a lot to my coaching career and the lessons I have learned from being able to coach her will continue to carry into my coaching future at Coon Rapids.”
Schultze followed up her all-state sophomore season with two more top-eight finishes last fall as a junior, finishing fifth in Class AA in the 100 butterfly and seventh in the 100 backstroke.
Poised for an even bigger senior season, her offseason training plans were thrown a change-up when the coronavirus pandemic kept athletes out of the pool for several months earlier this year. At that point, the focus became doing whatever else possible to maintain fitness for when swimming could resume.
“The biggest difference in my training coming into this season was a three-month break this spring,” Schultze said. “From March to June, I wasn’t able to swim and instead did a combination of running, biking and dry-land exercises. In June, I was able to start swimming again and was definitely out of shape. It was hard to get going at first, but after a couple of weeks, I started to feel pretty good in the water. Practices this summer were a little different in regards to the added precautions we had to take. I also usually do lots of racing at meets over the summer, which did not happen this year.”
The differences have carried over into the start of the 2020 high school season. Meets have kicked off in a virtual format, with opponents swimming and diving in their home pools, then comparing times and scores after for a head-to-head result.
Unfamiliar circumstances were met with familiar results in Coon Rapids’ season opener versus Centennial, however, as Schultze swam to a pair of conference records, both of which bettered her all-time school marks and one that broke a Northdale pool top spot.
“Competing virtually didn’t end up being as different as I thought it would be,” Schultze said. “I did miss having the fans and the opposing team there, but it’s important to do what is safe. I just made sure I was pumped up and focused on my goals for the meet, even though it was a different layout. I felt like the girls on our team brought a lot of energy to the meet by cheering each other on, which definitely helped me to swim faster.”
Surprising, perhaps, given the format. Not so much when considering the swimmer.
“Amazing – I have to remind myself that school, pool, conference records aren’t an everyday occurrence, because every time Megan races she definitely makes it seem like they are,” Donaldson said. “Heading into the meet, she wanted to set the pool record in the 200 free and lower her school record in the 500 free. Unfortunately she missed the pool record in the 200 free by about 0.7 seconds. She lowered her school record and conference record in doing so, but obviously was disappointed about missing the pool record.
“After that race and knowing that the 500 free was in the second half of the meet, we both looked at the pool record, did the math on the split times required to achieve it, and just had a conversation that, realistically, she could break the pool record in the 500 freestyle, even though that wasn’t her goal heading into the meet. Having coached Megan for six years now, I have to constantly take time to appreciate the fact that a blasé conversation about a pool record is not normal. The most impressive part, though, was that Megan’s 500 freestyle was not just a pool, conference and school record – it was a personal best for her by 13 seconds. The 500 free has been a weird race for her the last couple of years, even after she made huge strides in her 200 free. It was nice to finally see her swim a 500 freestyle the way she should be able to, and it was fun as a coach to see her reaction. Dropping 13 seconds in any race, especially at this point in her career, is a huge achievement. I’m guessing she hasn’t seen that kind of improvement in any race in a long time.”
Uncertainty lingers surrounding what the fall sports season will look like, throughout the regular season as well as any potential postseason meets. All that can be done is to take things one day at a time. If nothing else, there is always the clock to compete against.
“Although this isn’t the senior year I thought I would have, I’m grateful to be having a season,” Schultze said. “I’m going to make the most of whatever the season brings. There still is a lot of uncertainty surrounding how the end of the season will look. We won’t be able to have a large sections or state meet like we usually do. The precautions and limitations on the season may change how I get to my goals, but they haven’t really changed what they are. I still have the same goals as far as my times go. This summer and even into the start of the high school season I told myself that I might not know when or how I will be racing again, but that I do know I want to be ready whenever and however it happens.
“I’m extremely thankful for everything my swimming career has brought me. My family, coaches and teammates have supported me so much throughout my career and I wouldn’t be where I am without them. I’ve made so many memories that will last a lifetime. I think what has driven me is the desire to keep getting better. I constantly am thinking about the times I can go and my goals for each season. What makes swimming worth it is when everything comes together and you get your goal times. I just try to do my best in practice and races and see where it can get me. I think my teammates have also helped me get better. When we have to do hard practices, we’re there to support one another and push each other to swim fast.”
Schultze’s high school career is in its final stage, but her swimming career will continue on at Division I Rice University in Houston next year. Her legacy on the Cardinal program will be long-lasting – on the record board, and beyond.
“A lot of people see an athlete like Megan and just think that she is naturally faster than everyone else,” Donaldson said. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s not that she’s not athletic, because she is, but her combination of work ethic and mental fortitude is what separates her from the average high school athlete. There are plenty of talented individuals who don’t have work ethic or can’t get past their own mental blocks. If Megan was just talented, she never would have achieved what she has achieved. Her records and accomplishments are a result of her hard work and dedication. There is absolutely no way she would have ever been able to get to where she is today without those qualities.
“Records and accomplishments aside, Megan has been an incredible example of the type of student-athlete that any coach would dream to have on their team. She’s one of the top, if not the top, students in her class at Coon Rapids, she is dedicated to her sport and she finds time to volunteer and tutor on top of everything else. Her legacy is going to last beyond just the record boards. Every girl on the team is going to remember what it was like to watch her train, compete and carry herself day in and day out. It’s been an absolute treat to be able to coach her these past six years, and I’m excited to see what she does in the future.”