March 9, 2014 Updated: March 10, 2014 at 9:42 am
Long before she stood on the podium to accept three state-championship medals in the 100-yard butterfly, Sydney Buckley imagined far less grandeur.
"I remember in elementary school thinking about it, and my goal was just to swim on my high school team," Buckley said. "Then when I walked in for my freshman year, I thought they were so fast that I would get cut from the team."
Now, of course, we know that's far from the case. Buckley ultimately became the Indians' first female swimmer since Ashley Forsyth (2009-11) to win three individual state titles.
She added to that legacy Feb. 14 at the 4A state meet in Fort Collins, winning the 100 fly in a personal-best time of 55.85 seconds, just .21 off the 4A state record. In doing so, Buckley earned honors as The Gazette Girls' Swimmer of the Year.
Looking back, and certainly not by coincidence, it all started when Buckley, as a freshman, had a chance to rub elbows and take the torch left by that senior class led by Forsyth and Danielle Wahl, among others.
"They pushed us in practice, and they were great role models," Buckley said. "We had a big group of freshmen that year, and that senior class was very humble and taught us the ropes. At first, it was really intimidating to be in the pool with some of those girls we thought were bigger than life."
Buckley added her latest achievement to an elite group of Cheyenne Mountain swimmers to stand on the highest point, joining Melissa Walker, Anna Trinidad, Karen Long, Kaley Knaflec, Mackenzie Clark and Forsyth as individual state champions.
Entering a school with such a tradition seems to bring out the best in those who want their names up there, too.
"It's in the legacy we have here at Cheyenne Mountain," coach Kate Doane said. "They come in as freshmen, fired up to be a part of history. They just want to be part of the team and represent their school. They're constantly looking up at the record board, to leave that mark."
As quickly as she recalled her early days, Buckley soon found herself as the carrier of the torch when official practices started this season. At that time, she realized the new group of freshmen had perhaps the same trepidation about swimming in the same pool with a state champion and a senior.
"Yeah, at first I think they were a little nervous, just like I was," Buckley said. "It has been great to hang out with these girls, to teach them the ropes. I know they'll keep the program going strong and teach the freshmen when they're seniors."