Breann Fuller steps into the arena, the tiles slick and comforting on the soles of her feet. The familiar feeling reassures her as she prepares for this race as she has every other race in her freshman-swimming career. But this race is special.
Fuller is the first Ram to travel to the NCAA championships since 2004.
The 5-foot 6-inch Colorado native followed her breakout season by finishing with record times in the 100 and 200 meter backstroke the Mountain West Conference Championships, earning her an automatic bid to the NCAA’s in College Station, Texas.
“Every day I’m getting more and more excited,” Fuller said a week before the meet. “I’m expecting more than one swim.”
But it didn’t pan out for her. Fuller finished in 48th-place in both events, a spot that did not allow her to get that second swim opportunity.
“I’m disappointed in how things turned out,” Fuller said. “I would have liked to have done better. I don’t think I did very good.”
Anything could have contributed to the lack of success in the meet — the crowd, the competition, the first time at nationals, but Fuller isn’t making any excuses. She said that she will treat this as a learning experience and put the blame on herself.
Fuller, who says she feeds off pressure, was not the only one to notice that she had little experience competing at that high of a level.
“She had a little bit of the freshman jitters,” said head coach John Mattos after the meet. “Her first swim in the 100 backstroke was a very nervous swim. She didn’t look at all like she normally looks.”
Mattos, who expected Fuller to finish in the top three of her heat, was surprised at how the atmosphere affected her.
CSU’s most successful swimmer really had no plans of being a Ram a little over a year ago. She earned six letters in four years at Brighton High School, but after getting tendonitis, Fuller believed her time in the pool was over.
A meeting with coach Mattos and a trip to CSU changed her mind, Mattos knew she could be great.
“Watching her start, watching her underwater work and watching her dive on her freestyle and how she used her body to get up and into her strokes, was just exceptional,” Mattos said of Fuller’s recruitment. “I just knew she had a lot of potential.”
Fuller expected to be successful because of her raw talent and work ethic, though she does acknowledge her strengths and weaknesses.
Her start is strong and her largest limitation comes into play during long races, as she lacks endurance she says. Mattos ranks her strong legs and underwater work as the most valuable of her abilities, and he believes the only weakness in her swimming is experience.
When asked about her favorite type of swim, Fuller says the answer is easy: The backstroke-because you can keep breathing.
Pre-race routines are not uncommon for athletes, but Fuller has only two things to do before each race: Pray and dance around, shaking her limbs, a practice that has received some unusual looks.
But looks don’t decide races. All the gyrating is part of Fuller’s personality. She is the one always looking to crack a joke at the blocks or goof around when the coaches aren’t looking.
“She is just a good teammate, a good friend, a good person,” said Mattos. “She’s just real easy to get along with.”
Fuller is also a college student who lives in cramped dorm room, spending what extra time she has with friends and family.
Because the team’s schedule is so demanding she splurges on sleeping, eating, watching comedies like “Anchorman” and listening to the sounds of The Fray and One Republic.
With three years left in the pool, Fuller expects to build on this season’s success.
Swimming beat writer Keith Robertson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.