In the span of just one month, Brennan Mays’ freshman season at Colorado School of Mines came full circle. He went from experiencing the highest of the highs three individual titles at the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) Swimming and Diving Championships and conference Freshman of the Year honors to the other end of the spectrum at the NCAA Division II National Championships.

Mays opened his inaugural nationals trip with a 20th-place showing in the 1000-meter freestyle on March 11 in Indianapolis, Ind. His performance was followed by a bout of stomach flu later that evening, which kept him down the next day and forced him to withdraw from the 500-yard freestyle. But rather than close out an impressive debut season on a sour note, Mays bounced back to place 15th in the 1650 and garner honorable mention All-American recognition, despite not being at full strength. It was a pretty hard swim, but by that point I was no longer sick. I was just not at my best, Mays said. I’m glad I swam just so I didn’t let it completely define Nationals.

Brennan Mays. (Bryan Desch)

Brennan Mays. (Bryan Desch)

Not many freshmen could have handled a setback like that with such resilience, and that determination is just part of what impressed Mines coach Nate Rothman this year. Mays didn’t just bring the physical intangibles to the pool he was also strong mentally. ‘I think it’s a big learning experience for him this year. He’s still pretty young, and after that first day he was really disappointed,’ Rothman said. ‘We needed to set some realistic expectations, and from that moment in the conversation, he kind of picked his chin up.’

Mays wasn’t sure what to expect in his first year with the program, even after winning a state championship at Air Academy in Colorado Springs during his senior year of high school. Rothman recognized the potential immediately, saying that during his tenure with the Orediggers, he’s only had a handful of swimmers who have made an impact.

‘I knew this kid was something special for sure,’ said Rothman. ‘After a couple weeks of training with the team and kind of getting dialed in, you could see him start to understand what it’s about.’

It was Mays’ performance over four days at the RMAC in Grand Junction that really cemented those beliefs. He notched program records in the 1000, 500, and 1650 on his way to three conference titles, setting a pair of RMAC and pool records while recording 62 points on his own. He also broke a 15-year mark in the 500 at 4:32.05, and his time in the 1650 was 15:41.03.

Even after becoming the first All-American at Mines since Andrew Zerwick in 2011, Mays pointed to the conference championships as the highlight of his season. ‘I had my whole team there,’ he said. ‘It was a lot more meaningful to me being up there and swimming at my best, rather than having a hard time and just managing.’

The Mines men’s and women’s teams each placed fourth at the RMAC Championships, and Rothman was honored as Women’s Co-Coach of the Year for the first time. The Mines women broke more than 20 team records during the season, and the 800-meter free relay team was close to qualifying for nationals. ‘We had some great swims on the guys’ side and I’m really proud of how the men did,’ Rothman said. ‘But our girls had a season like I’ve never seen anywhere before. Having the girls step up to a new level is very exciting.’