Rudi Schnetzer has been one with the water since he was six years old. It was then he first became part of the Waldo County YMCA Bluefish youth swim team and has honed his craft the past 12 years.

And now, Schnetzer, a senior at Belfast Area High School, sees his hard work come to fruition.

At the Maine Junior Olympic championships Thursday through Sunday, March 15-18 at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Schnetzer, competing in the 100-yard butterfly, finished with a blistering time of 52.88, good for fourth among 32 other swimmers.

That time, ultimately, qualified him for the YMCA Short Course national championships, Tuesday through Saturday, April 3-7, at the Greensboro Aquatic Center in Greensboro, N.C.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” he said. “I’ve competed at New Englands before in my younger years and I’d met kids that had qualified for nationals, and I’ve always had that in the back of my mind that I might be able to make it. I’m just happy to get that time and go down there and have the experience.”

Bluefish coach Aaron Winslow said he has only had two other swimmers qualify for nationals in his 15 years coaching the youth program — those being Eric Gaulin and Tyler Bowen.

And now, Schnetzer joins that exclusive company.

“As soon as I looked up and saw the time I knew it was a national cut,” said Winslow. “My kids knew what it was because we knew going in what he needed to go. It was a cut we didn’t think he was going to make. But he did. My crew of kids cheering him on were ecstatic and they knew right away and he knew right away when he finished the swim.”

The 18-year-old has had plenty of success in the pool before. He hs won multiple Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B individual titles — including the 100 freestyle crown in February — and has had several top-three finishes in state competitions.

With the Bluefish, he also has had many topnotch finishes across several age groups over the years.

But, qualifying for the nationals certainly is the pinnacle of Schnetzer’s swim career thus far.

“We’d kind of been focusing on the 50 free and the 100 free because we’ve been so close [to qualifying in those events],” said Winslow. “So the fly gave us that opportunity. To Rudi, a national cut is a national cut no matter what we did it in even though he probably doesn’t think it’s his strongest event.”

Schnetzer said freestyle and backstroke always have been his two top strokes, but he has made strong progress with his breaststroke and butterfly and now “they’re all pretty equal.”

Schnetzer, who also plays tennis for BAHS, swam well enough in other events at Bowdoin that he will be able to take part in the timed trial portions of the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle and the 100 backstroke at the nationals.

He missed qualifying for the nationals in the 50 free by 100th of a second.

He will not be eligible to win a national championship in those three events, but can “either try to qualify for nationals next year or just to do a time improvement,” said Winslow.

Winslow said that, in the past, Schnetzer has been more of a distance swimmer, “but in his growth he’s changed more to the sprints.”

“He’s really come along in the last two years,” said Winslow. “He started high school at like five feet tall and now he’s like 6-2 or 6-3, so he’s really grown into it over the past year.”

After high school, Schnetzer hopes to attend either the University of Illinois-Chicago or the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

Both are Division I schools, with high-level swim programs, so “I’m going to see what I can do at nationals.”

“I won’t be too disappointed if I don’t [swim in college],” said Schnetzer. “I’ve had 12 good years and I’m fine with moving on, but a certainly wouldn’t mind continuing because I think I could definitely prove a lot at the college level."

As is typically the case with swimmers, only time will tell.