Sometimes, stumbling upon an event or an athlete just works out.
Nolan Ellis didn't aspire to be a pole vaulter; he was simply a high school football player looking for something to do in the spring.
Spencer Jahr was a jack-of-all-trades athlete, especially successful in field events, early in his career, who blossomed in the heptathlon during the indoor season.
They both ended up being national indoor champions last year, and return to the NCAA Division II Indoor Championships this week in Pittsburg, Kansas.
Then there's Ethan Harris, who knocked on CMU track coach Brad Gamble's door one day last fall after attending Grand Canyon University for a year. The redshirt freshman will join Ellis and Jahr at nationals, competing in the high jump.
"Ethan just showed up in my office last year and said 'Hey, I'd like to high jump.' I said OK, and a year later he's going to nationals as a 7-foot high jumper," said Gamble, in his second year as CMU's track and field coach.
Jahr was the first national champion in the track program's history, winning the heptathlon a year ago, wrapping up the title a couple of hours before Ellis won the pole vault title. Going back to the same venue will be a bonus.
"I know there's pretty good mojo there from last year, so I'm kind of banking on that," said Jahr, who will compete in the heptathlon over two days.
Ellis has steadily dominated the pole vault event in the RMAC during his career, building toward Friday's competition.
"The goal was always to get better the year after," the senior from Parker said. "This year just build off last year, just taking one step forward. When I walked into Mesa, it wasn't just to jump well, it was to jump really well my last meet as a senior."
When he checked into track at Chaparral High School that spring of his freshman year, pole vault was suggested. He didn't know anything about the event, but ended up finishing second in the Colorado High School Activities Association state meet in 2014 as a senior.
"I literally just stumbled upon it," he said. "Luckily I liked it. I've heard other people talk about pole vault (being) the step-sibling. Nobody really knows about pole vault, it's just kind of out there. There aren't many people who say, hey, I want to be a pole vaulter. You kind of just stumble upon it and I was fortunate enough to like it and be decently good at it."
He came to CMU as a two-sport athlete and played two years as a wide receiver and punter on the football team, appearing in four games in 2015 before concentrating on track full time. He's now a four-time All-American (indoor and outdoor the past two seasons), has a national indoor title and a national outdoor runner-up finish.
Jahr was injured much of this indoor season, but put together a stellar performance at the RMAC championships, winning three of the seven events and placing no lower than fourth in any.
He earned All-America honors last year in the indoor heptathlon and outdoor decathlon, placing 10th at nationals. The heptathlon tests athletes in the 60-meter dash, long jump, shot put and high jump on Friday, then has them running the 60-meter hurdles and pole vaulting Saturday, finishing with the grueling 1,000-meter run.
"Honestly, it's just competing against yourself in every event," Jahr said. "You can't count on every event to go well. Typically it doesn't work that way ever, honestly. You just go in and put your best foot forward in each event, because you never know what's going to happen."
Harris isn't quite sure what to expect from his first national meet, but he's been getting plenty of advice from the defending champions and Gamble, a former heptathlon national champion. He'll have a few hours to soak in the atmosphere before he competes in the high jump Friday afternoon.
Harris redshirted last season, then won both the high jump and long jump in his first indoor meet at Western Colorado this winter. He passed seven feet in his second meet, clearing 7 feet, ½ inch, at Colorado Mines, and placed in the top three in every meet he entered this season.
"I guess we'll see," he said with a grin. "I'm not sure what to expect, since this is my first national meet. I've definitely had many conversations with (Ellis and Jahr), they're great leaders for the team; they're just kind of showing me what it's like. They have different views of their areas and leaning on them really makes me confident."
Gamble is seeing the track program grow both in numbers and performances since taking over last year, and despite not having a true indoor facility, he's confident the trio will be successful this weekend.
"It's made us as a coaching staff (be creative in) how to set up things," Gamble said of using the Maverick Pavilion, the "bubble" adjacent to the Maverick Center, as well as outdoor tracks at Stocker Stadium and Grand Junction High School to train, weather permitting.
"As athletes, they've had incredible attitudes, not a woe-is-me attitude. It's a let's go show the world what we can do despite maybe not having the nice (indoor facilities) other schools have."