November 26, 2013 Updated: November 26, 2013 at 8:15 pm
Pine Creek freshman Olivia Chatman has done everything she could over the past couple of weeks to prepare for her first high school swim meet.
Chatman has put in extra time in the pool, worked hard to understand the ins and outs of the Eagles' relay timing, and talked endlessly with Pine Creek coach Steve Owsley about the differences she should expect going from club swimming to the high school level.
"She's been on our radar for a while now. We knew she was going to be good in just about every event," Owsley said. "I told her it's a lot different than club once you get here. Here, people are always watching you, while at club you're a bit more anonymous and it's a bit more individualized. Here, you are swimming for your team."
Despite all the tireless effort, however, the fate of more than a handful of area teams will rest on the actual production they can get from their 14-and 15-year-old swimmers.
The notion that freshmen will be counted on so greatly across the board isn't necessarily a bad thing either.
Take Chatman, who has been competitively swimming since her grandma dragged her to the pool eight years ago. She's used to the nerves of the big stage and already has proven she can handle the rigors of the high school regimen (since club swimming usually demands a higher volume of swimming). And today she already holds a time that would qualify her for the 5A state meet in the 100 backstroke and is only about 1 second off from having another in the 100 butterfly.
The Eagles are hoping she can add depth to a team that finished second in the 5A Metro League Championships last season.
"We bring back girls like Madi Cooper, who was the league champion in the 200 and 500 free," Owsley said. "And we have Anna Conroy and Esther Choi back after they were both runners-up at league last year. Olivia can not only add some depth to our events but I think she could be our No. 1 or 2 girl in a lot of events. She'll be big for us."
It doesn't stop there. With more than a handful of area teams teetering on the brink of a good to great season, upper-class talent at a premium, and with 5A and 4A completely open for the taking (Missy Franklin is off at college), a lot will fall on the shoulders of freshmen across the Colorado Springs swim scene.
Coaches like Lewis-Palmer's Alan Arata have said they have no choice but to lean on new swimmers and will eventually have to throw their freshmen into the deep end regardless of their progress.
"About half our team is new and most of those are freshmen," said Arata, who welcomed freshmen talent like Julie Day and Cori Dech who both already have times that meet 5A qualifying. "It's exciting because you don't know how good you could be yet. You have to change how you coach from year to year, and this year will be no different with our lack of experience. For one, we'll have to do a lot more racing to get them ready as quick as possible."
Elsewhere, highly touted frosh Carter Terry could be a home-run swing for St. Mary's in the 50 freestyle, freshman Maggie Tibbit will add depth in the 200 free and 100 backstroke for 4A contender Cheyenne Mountain, and Manitou Springs coach Roy Chaney hopes Junior Olympic freshmen Kethrys Buffa and Emily Dolloff-Holt will help the 3A Mustangs to a top-10 finish at 4A state.
"I am not nervous in what I need to do. I don't feel like any nerves here," said Dollof-Holt, who already has what would be state-qualifying times. "I know I'm going to have to make state and I think I will. I just want to help this team wherever I can."