Published: February 7, 2014
Standing on the pool deck with goggle imprints around her eyes, Pine Creek senior Anna Conroy didn't see the Colorado Springs Metro League Championships as just a chance to improve upon her times heading into next week's state meet.
It was her chance to swim against some of her closest friends for perhaps one last time.
During a rowdy and loud day of preliminaries, the fourth-year high school swimmer joined a pool of other girls in heated, yet friendly competition, and swam against five of her closest area friends in the 200-yard individual medley at Rampart on Friday.
"You love your own high school team, of course. But the competition against these other girls from around here is something I'll really miss too," Conroy said, as she finished ahead of five of her club teammates from different schools in the 200 IM in 2 minutes, 22.09 seconds, including second-place finisher Sami Lenzmeier of Liberty who has been swimming with Conroy since the age of 5. "You want to beat them, but you cheer for them too."
Everywhere you looked, Doherty swimmers were talking to Rampart swimmers (calling themselves "Doher-Part"), Liberty swimmers were laughing with Eagles swimmers and Palmer swimmers were warming up with Fountain-Fort Carson swimmers.
The reason? Many of them have been club teammates longer than they've been high school opponents, Pine Creek coach Steve Owsley said.
"The swimming community is great here," Owsley said. "I think this bond of girls is why we have so much talent in the area."
Even with a constant smile, Conroy followed the 200 IM with another top time in the 100 butterfly, joining Rampart's Lindsey Horning as the only swimmers with two top seeds heading into Saturday's finals.
Conroy's club teammate Julie Henninger of Rampart kept one of the area's best seasons alive with a win in the 100 backstroke, as well as top placing in the 200-medley and 200-freestyle relays.
"It was a good first day, but all of us want to do even better tomorrow," said Henninger, who was talking to close friend Emily Mehlhop of Doherty after both girls had finished the 100 backstroke. "It will be crazy tomorrow."
Rampart finished day one with seven top finishes, Conroy had both of Pine Creek's, and Liberty, Doherty and Palmer each had one.
While Rampart seems to be in a comfortable spot heading into the finals, coach Pat Burch said there won't be any letdown in the pool - no matter how chummy they are out of it.
"Sure, it's a fun atmosphere and the girls like each other and talk to each other," said Burch, who will retire following the state meet after 13 years with the program. "But make no mistake; this is what all those hours of practice are for. These girls want to win. It's like Rampart and Pine Creek have girls that like each other and are friends, but we never ever want to lose to Pine Creek. And they sure don't want to lose to us. It's friendly, but it's a huge team rivalry."