Morford strokes way to NCAAs
For Amanda Morford, there can be no doubt freshman year rules.
In 1997, as a freshman at Baldwin High School, Morford won the Class 4A State Cross Country title as an individual. Fast forward to 2002 and Morford, as a freshman at the University of Missouri, qualified for the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) tournament as a swimmer. She is the only Tiger to make the incredibly tough national cut.
"It's weird," Morford said of the freshman angle to her success. "It's pretty cool. I don't know, maybe I want to prove something as a freshman. I get excited about doing something new. Everyone gets you pumped up."
Morford turned in her personal-best clocking of 55.53 in the 100-meter backstroke at the Big 12 Championship at the end of February. It was a Missouri record and shaved three seconds off her previous best time. It was a shock.
"It was surprising," she said. "My coach was really surprised I went that fast. I was having a hard time figuring my stroke. I knew I could go faster, but it was just a mater of figuring out my stroke. I still can't believe I went that fast.
"I finished and looked at the time and said 'wow,'" Morford said. "I got out of the water and did a little dance."
Then it was a waiting game to see if she qualified for NCAA meet. That word came Friday. The cutoff was 55.8, so Morford will head to nationals March 21-23 at the University of Texas in Austin. She didn't think she would make the cut that limits the field to just the top 322 swimmers in the country.
"Nope. I thought it would be impossible," said Morford. "Not very many people make it. I had my goals and they were to get good times."
She reached that goal and it meant the trip to nationals. She also knows it will be tough competition once there. Morford is the 26th seeded swimmer in the 100 backstroke field of 43, which also includes NCAA record holder Natalie Coughlin of California who has swam the distance in 50.71.
"There were a lot of fast people at conference. This is going to be really extremely fast," she said. "I can't even imagine. My coach said I'd probably be the smallest girl there. It will be cool."
The 2001 graduate of Baldwin High, who has been swimming competitively since she was a fifth grader, is also keeping it in perspective.
"Even if I don't swim well, I'll still be excited since I'm the only one from my team to go," Morford said. "I thought it was totally impossible to make nationals because I was sick for three weeks."
If history is repeated, Missouri should stand to gain from Morford's freshman streak and have qualifiers for some time. When she won the cross country title in 1997 for BHS, it began a string of individual titles for the Bulldogs that is still intact.
Morford remembers the state title fondly, but got an even bigger charge out of qualifying for the NCAAs.
"I think it's more exciting because it's a much bigger thing than winning state," she said. "But, both of them are exciting."