Coming into the indoor track and field season this winter, Colorado's Gabby Scott had high expectations.
After all, she had put together a solid junior season last year, so improvement was expected.
When she crossed the finish line at the end of the 400-meter run at the CU Invitational on Feb. 2, however, she was stunned. Scott's time was 53.56 seconds — blowing her previous best of 54.88 out of the water and setting a new school record.
"To come in and I opened at 53.5 with no one around me ... it was definitely shocking, but my training has been really, really good," she said.
Since then, Scott has proven that race was no fluke, as she continues to get better. This weekend, the senior will be one of five Buffs competing at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Birmingham, Ala. The meet will take place Friday and Saturday.
"It's been a pretty big surprise for all of us, even her and myself included," CU sprints coach Burke Bockman said. "We had a lot of goals and it's goals we had to write in pencil, we're finding out, because she kept achieving our long-term season goals early and we had to keep adjusting and adjusting and adjusting. Every race she's ran has been a little bit better than the last."
After her first race of the season, Scott was a bit nervous that she peaked too early, but six days later she posted a 53.22. Then, on Feb. 23, she clocked in at 52.34 at the MPSF championships — breaking the school record once again.
Scott is the first CU women's sprinter to reach the indoor nationals since 2002, and she's only the second CU woman to reach nationals — indoor or outdoor — in the 400 meters, joining Leona Russell in 1996.
For Scott, the difference has been in her ability to put a full race together and take advantage of her physical maturity.
"I'm getting out (at the start) a lot better," she said. "That was always my issue — while maturing into my body — was getting out and running hard the first 200 meters. Now I am running with those girls the first 200; it's not just me finishing strong. I'm actually putting the whole thing together."
Early in her career, Scott would try to pace herself during the second 100 meters, but going all out from the beginning has taken her to an elite level.
"If you're getting left behind the first 200 meters, there's no catching them in the second 200, even if you're a stronger runner at the end," she said.
It's been hard this year to catch Scott, who now will chase a national title. She has the sixth-best time in the nation. If she can place top eight in Friday's preliminaries, she'll compete in the finals on Saturday.
"The first step is just to make it to finals," she said. "I'm not going to say I'm going to win, but I'm not going to say it's not possible. My mentality going in is why not me? Why can't I go make finals and possibly be top three or win the whole thing?"
Scott, from San Diego, has steadily improved throughout her career and is enjoying her new level of success.
"I stayed patient," she said. "Obviously when you come into college, you want the glory right away and to be the best and it took some time. I had to just be patient, trust my coach, my teammates and more importantly just trust myself and believe what I could do."
The indoor season has "changed the whole game" for her prospects in the outdoor season, where she runs the 400-meter hurdles.
For Scott, though, there is even more to come. After graduation this spring, she will move back to San Diego and train for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Scott is on the national team for Puerto Rico, where her mother grew up.
What she's doing now for the Buffs has increased Scott's excitement for her future.
"Now I can really see myself hitting times and I can be competitive in trying to quality for the Olympics," she said.
For now, though, she is enjoying her final months as a collegian.
"To put everything together in my last season as a Buff is a fun experience," she said.
NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships
WHEN/WHERE: Friday and Saturday in Birmingham, Ala.
CU WOMEN'S QUALIFIERS: Makena Morley (3,000 meters & 5,000); Tabor Scholl (mile); Gabby Scott, Sr. (400).
CU MEN'S QUALIFIERS: John Dressel (5,000); Joe Klecker (3,000 & 5,000).
BUFFS SCHEDULE OF EVENTS (all times MT): Friday — Women's mile prelim (4:35 p.m.); Women's 400 prelim (5:27 p.m.); Women's 5,000 final (7:07 p.m.); Men's 5,000 final (7:27 p.m.); Saturday — Women's mile final (3:10 p.m.); Women's 400 final (3:50 p.m.; Women's 3,000 final (5:10 p.m.); Men's 3,000 final (5:25 p.m.).