An extended road trip helped the Fossil Ridge High School boys swimming team get the season started off right.
After winning the Class 5A team title last year, coach Mark Morehouse wanted a different feel for early season goal-setting meetings.
Instead of the typical classroom setting, the SaberCats set the tone for the season with a getaway in Estes Park.
The SaberCats competed at the Estes Park Sprints (taking first), then stayed in a rented house overnight to begin forming the bond needed to repeat as state champions.
“They can achieve more if they’re working for the team then just doing it for themselves,” Morehouse said. “We make a really big deal about formulating the team concept, knowing that everybody on our team contributes to our success.”
Fossil Ridge did extra training in Estes Park, simulating the higher altitude the team will compete at in the 5A state meet in May at the Air Force Academy.
Poor weather kept the team mostly inside, bonding through games and meetings.
The main point to drive home was the group is greater than the individual.
“You would think that having so many kids on the team we wouldn’t all be that close, but we’re all super-close,” sophomore Danny Kovac said. “(The retreat) was so much fun. Everyone really got to know each other, that was just a blast.”
High school swimming is often decided by who isn’t in the pool, with talented athletes often skipping out on competing for their school and instead swimming for their club team.
Teams in Fort Collins have a strong relationship with the local clubs and most top swimmers also compete for their high schools. That bond is paying off, with the strong clubs helping to fuel Fossil Ridge.
“I feel like having our club swimmers swim at Fossil as well helps with the team attitude and helps build the team up,” senior Loren Gillilan said.
Unity only takes a team so far, but the talent on the squad makes a formidable force. The SaberCats are the top-ranked swim team in 5A by PrepSwimCo.com. With the state meet looming a month from now, Fossil Ridge already has impressive wins on its resume.
The SaberCats won the prestigious Dick Rush Memorial Coaches Invitational, blowing out Regis Jesuit and Cherry Creek, top contenders for the 5A crown. They also won a dual against Cherry Creek.
Fossil Ridge competes in a sort of pre-state trial run this weekend at the Eagle Invitational at the Air Force Academy, site of the state meet.
So far, the plan seems to be working, with the SaberCats’ swimmers going all-in on the team philosophy.
Kovac won Fossil Ridge’s only individual state title (100-yard backstroke) last year. Swimmers such as Gillilan, Sam Ybarra, Mason Fine, Kris Malinin, Craig Heimark, Matt Willis, Richard Dauksher and more provide the backbone, with all being capable of scoring in multiple events.
If Fossil Ridge wins again — and the SaberCats will likely enter the state meet as the favorite — it will again be with contributions from everywhere.
In six of nine individual events, there’s at least one SaberCat with a top-five time in 5A right now. Fossil Ridge is also top-three in all three relays.
“We try not to focus on last year and winning the state title,” Kovac said. “We had to work last year and it’s no different this year. That’s definitely one of our goals, but it’s not going to come easy.”
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