It wasn't just a mirage.
"We accomplished what we came down here to do," Durango High School girls co-head coach Tom Coxwell said Saturday. "We're not just a flash in the pan. We are a good swim team."
After outswimming the Western Slope in the first half of the season, Durango had its first true test this weekend at the Albuquerque Invitational, a mix of 15 teams from Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
Durango came in fourth place.
"That is fabulous," Coxwell said. "Not only does that make me proud, but these girls were able to put their shoulders back and say, 'OK, what we're doing is right.'"Our times dropped for everybody, some by 100ths of a second, some by 10 seconds or more."
Senior swimmer Melissa Merryman won the 100-meter backstroke in 1:01.72, her fastest swim this year. She also finished third in the 200-meter individual medley with a time of 2:21.88, less than one second from a state-qualifying time.
Sheyanne Hunsinger had a pair of third-place finishes in the 200- and 500-meter freestyle events. She set a personal record in the 200 free but just missed a state qualifying time by the narrowest of margins; her time in the 500 free was good enough for a PR and the state meet.
Hunsinger, a junior, swam the 500 free in 5:27.53, more than 10 seconds better than her previous best and more than 8 seconds better than the state-qualifying time.
"That's a lifetime best for her," Coxwell said.
"That was a fabulous race, and she's swimming against schools down here that have huge numbers.
"When you look around the walls of the natatorium, there's no space left on the walls for any more state plaques," Coxwell said.
Erika Pitcher, a sophomore from Pagosa Springs who competes with DHS, had a pair of eighth-place finishes in the 50 free and the 100-meter butterfly, and senior Hanna Mink had a ninth-place finish in the 50 free and a 13th in the 100 free. Both swimmers set personal bests in the 50 free with a 26.3 and a 26.4, respectively.
Katie Ambrecht was seventh in the 200 free, and the freshman dropped 12 seconds off her personal best in the 500 free with a 5:51.
Lauren Dody, a freshman, was 11th in the 200 free, and Megan Deaver, a freshman, was 12th in the 200 IM.
Kayla McCarthy, a sophomore, was sixth in the 100-meter breaststroke.
Durango's 200-meter relay team swam a state-qualifying time Saturday which was stripped of them because of a disqualification.
"That just lets us know that we can make that time," Coxwell said.
Durango's A-team in the 200-meter freestyle relay placed third and the B-team ninth.
The 400 free relay team placed eighth.
"We were spent emotionally and physically at that point," Coxwell said.
Durango will swim at Montezuma-Cortez in a dual meet Friday, then will swim a pair of road meets against Gunnison on Jan. 30 and Glenwood Springs and Moffat County on Jan. 31.
Durango will host districts Feb. 6 at the Fort Lewis College pool.
"I couldn't be happier with our performance," Coxwell said.