When the playoffs started, nobody outside of Pittsburgh picked the Steelers to win the Super Bowl. Maybe that's why they went on to become the champs: because no pressure was placed on them to go all the way.
The same can be said for the CSU swimming and diving team entering this week's Mountain West Conference Championships in Oklahoma City, Okla. Nobody outside of Fort Collins expects the team to finish higher than they did in the regular season, fifth place in the MWC.
"On paper, it looks like we don't have a shot in heck to do anything in this championship," said head coach John Mattos. "But it isn't gonna be that way."
Mattos has always centered the team's season around this week in Oklahoma. From the very first day of practice it was known to every member of the team that the goal was to swim fastest at the conference championships, yet none of the swimmers enter the championship with unrealistic expectations.
One event that bodes well for the Rams is the 200 Medley Relay, a race the team has won the past three years at the championships.
"These kids all want to be on that relay," Mattos said.
Senior captains Liz Jones and Rachelle Kula will swim the freestyle and butterfly strokes respectively, but Mattos has yet to determine who will swim the breaststroke and backstroke legs of the relay.
"Seeing as that relay is probably our best chance of medaling, it would be really sweet to be on (the 200 Medley Relay)," said junior Brette Winegarner.
The 200 Medley Relay is scheduled as one of the first events of the championships, taking place at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Even if Winegarner doesn't get the spot on the relay, she will have a great chance to earn her team points in the 100-meter backstroke, an event she is seeded third in. Sophomore Amy Abrams and freshman Lyndsey Cox will join Winegarner.
This week's championships will potentially be the last chance for five seniors to swim for CSU.
"I'm trying not to think too hard about being a senior," Jones said. "I'm kind of in denial actually."
Jones will try to extend her career as a Ram as long as possible by qualifying for the NCAA championships this week in the 50 and 100-meter freestyle races.
Fellow senior Taylor Felton plans on ending her time at CSU successfully with a quality finish in the mile.
"It will be my last race of my swimming career and I'm ready to go out on top and do as best as I can," she said.
The Rams arrive in Oklahoma City around noon on Tuesday, allowing them time to acclimate themselves to the Oklahoma City Community College's Aquatic Center. A team dinner and coaches' meeting will take place later that evening.
Although expectations for CSU swimming and diving this week are not high, the team hopes to live up to their potential by the time the 2006 Mountain West Conference Champions are named.
Sean Star can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org