Chesterton coach Kevin Kinel describes senior swimmer Nate Rodriguez as someone whose "cup is always full."
No matter the situation, Rodriguez routinely finds a way to accentuate the positive.
He has never qualified for the state meet, and his final opportunity comes in just one event, the 100-yard back, at the LaPorte Sectional. Prelims are at 5:30 p.m. today, and the finals start at 1 p.m. Saturday.
"I look at it that the past three years have (set me up) for this last, final shot," Rodriguez said. "I feel like I'm prepared."
Rodriguez was an age-group swimmer in Lansing, Ill. He moved to Chesterton as a fifth-grader and pulled away from the sport.
"I had moved. A lot of stuff was going on," he said. "I didn't feel comfortable swimming."
Rodriguez began to miss the sport, so he returned as a freshman. His first impressions were eye-opening, considering the pool included several future members of the 2013 state championship squad.
"I had no idea just how fast everyone was," Rodriguez said. "It was very overwhelming at first."
But he never thought about giving up, just moving up.
"I just became friends with everyone on the team," he said, "and I was just trying to get to their level."
Rodriguez made varsity last season. He competed at last year's sectional, finishing third in the 100 breast and fourth in the 50 free.
Chesterton's incoming freshman class included several talented swimmers, including Gary Kostbade (free, breast) and Wesley Slaughter (sprints). To qualify for state this year, Rodriguez would have to switch to the 100 back.
"I'd always swam breast and the individual medley, and I hadn't paid (total) attention to back," he said. "I started getting decent times and picking up my technique. I saw it as a challenge, and I was going to overcome it no matter what."
Rodriguez finished third in the Duneland Athletic Conference meet in the back. His 54.64 is his personal best, and it's more than a second off the state-cut time (53.11). Because he'll be competing against teammate and defending state champion Aaron Whitaker, the state-cut time is the realistic goal.
"I get the cut time or that's it," said Rodriguez, who will swim for Carthage College next year. "I'll have a championship suit on, and I'll be fully tapered.
"All of this is a complete shock to me. I feel lucky and thankful to have coach (Kinel). He's really helped me a lot to get to this point."
Kinel said Rodriguez had a lot to do with his own development.
"He was always just driving to continue to improve," Kinel said. "He's just been a pleasure to be around -- a great attitude. The fact that he's got to this point is a credit to him, because he didn't start here."