Miranda Tucker was 9 when her angry face first emerged, and her parents, who had secretly been pining for one of their children to show signs of being a competitive spitfire, were shocked -- and delighted.

She was 10 when she waited in an autograph line to meet future Olympic bronze medal-winning swimmer Allison Schmitt for nothing more than to deliver the news that when Schmitt competed in the 2012 Summer Games, Tucker would be one of her teammates.

At the time, Schmitt laughed it off, delighting in a young swimmer's willingness to dream big -- no matter how unfounded or far-fetched it seemed at the time.

Five years later, Miranda Tucker is barely 15, having celebrated her latest birthday three weeks before she arrived in Omaha for the Olympic Trials that perhaps no one -- outside of herself -- believed she'd ever reach.

Let alone before she was old enough to drive.

Tucker will share a pool with the Olympic hopefuls and sure things -- the Michael Phelps and the Dara Torres of the swimming world. Undoubtedly, she will be the biggest of underdogs in a field of swimming superstars well beyond her years.

She will bump into Schmitt, who comes from the same suburban Detroit hometown of Canton, Mich., and has already reminded the four-time NCAA freestyle champion that Tucker has nearly made good on her promise.

Away from the pool, there are no signs of the angry face.

Miranda Tucker is soft-spoken and giggly, shy and unsure of herself when it comes to talking about herself and her quest to spend part of the summer leading up to her sophomore year of high school in London, earmarked as one of the world's best.

She is smiley and shy, polite and respectful, more comfortable with thanking her family and friends for their support than with trumpeting her own success.

She balks at a question about whether she has allowed herself to think about how realistic her Olympic hopes are only 12 months after she first started pushing to cross out another milestone on her competitive swimming bucket list.

In reality, making a push for the 2016 Summer Games seems much more attainable, providing Tucker another four years to prepare herself mentally and physically.

But perhaps, it's the fact that she is only 15 that she won't give up so easily. Perhaps because she is 15 and so far off the competition's radar despite being the country's No. 2-ranked 15-year-old in the breaststroke that there is a big part of Miranda Tucker that believes that maybe those hopes for London aren't so unbelievable.

"Now that I've made it (to the Trials), I guess maybe I can think about (the Olympics)," Tucker says. "So I think, 'Why not now?' -- I just have to try really, really hard."

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In the pool, though, Tucker morphs into a fiery competitor unwilling to settle for anything less than what she feels she is capable of and who despises losing like nothing else.

Ask her swim coach, Josh Morgan, whether Tucker's youthful optimism is grounded in reality or wishful thinking, and Morgan describes a swimmer who is competitive beyond her years but maybe a little too naïve to really grasp what kind of company she is swimming in this week in Omaha.

He points to the dedication of a teenager who awoke at 4 a.m. for the past year to make 5 a.m. practices and that consistently shaved time of her two breaststroke events after Morgan dangled the Olympic Trials carrot in front of his then 14-year-old protégé.

When he first mentioned the trials last spring, Morgan had a swimmer with all the raw talent to make a serious push, but who needed more consistency in the way she attacked her craft.

From the start, he warned her it wouldn't be easy.

"I just asked her if she was willing to go all in and just go for it," says Morgan, who coaches the Plymouth-Canton Cruisers, the team Tucker has been swimming for during the past 2 1/2 years. "It was going to have to be a pretty dedicated effort."

Part of her preparation involved training with Mike Barwis, the former strength and conditioning coach at Michigan and West Virginia. Barwis now runs his own training center that has a clientele list chocked full of professional and Olympic athletes alike.

It is here where Barwis -- a scratchy-voiced drill sergeant of a trainer -- pushed Tucker to her limits, designing an intense weight and exercise regimen that would demonstrate exactly what it would take to realize her Olympic dreams.

So in the midst of burly NFL stars and fast-skating NHL players, Tucker remained on task, drawing on the competitiveness that once had been reserved for the pool.

In a settling where world-class athletes often resort to a little trash talk to motivate those around them, Tucker -- who said she learned from Barwis how to talk back to grown men -- has proven she's not to be taken lightly.

"She's tough. It's a rare occasion that you're around a kid of that age that has that level of commitment to their sport and really loves it," Barwis says. "It's not a forced thing.

"Her personality is unique -- it's kind of one-track of, 'This is what I do -- this is how I work, I make it happen, I work at it.' But that's who she is."

Tucker, who is home-schooled, trained between 14 and 16 hours a week, keeping the Olympic Trial standard for her two breaststroke events clearly in front of her.

When the stretch run arrived, Tucker was constantly inching closer toward the time that would earn her a trip to Omaha.

Then, finally in her final qualifying event earlier this month, Tucker finished the 200 finals in 2:35.00 -- ahead of the trials standard of 2:35.99. A day later, she added the 100 breaststroke, finishing in 1:11.78, beating the standard of 1:12.19.

She narrowly missed qualifying in the 100 butterfly, finishing less than a second off the standard on a day she still struggles to adequately put into words.

She reached the wall and the pool public address announcer verbalized the words Tucker had been waiting a year to hear.

"I heard, Miranda Tucker -- Olympic Trial cut -- and I looked at the board and I see my time and I was laughing and crying at the same time," Tucker says. "It was amazing."

For Diane Tucker, Miranda's mother, the moment was almost too much to take in.

Six years before, when Miranda's angry face first appeared, Diane and her husband, both former athletes, breathed a sigh of relief when they saw their youngest daughter's competitive fire rise to the surface.

Their other children had dabbled in sports but never like this. And so when they saw the facial expression they had never seen before with Miranda, they knew.

Diane still remembers the date -- Jan. 6, 2006 -- when Miranda stepped up on the blocks and allowed the angry face to shine through.

"We were like, aahhhhhhh, 'We've got one,'" Diane Tucker says. "We've got a competitor."

Since then, though, Miranda's parents have walked the fine line between allowing their daughter to dream and trying to keep her grounded. They thought it was cute when Miranda made her proud proclamation to Schmitt in that autograph line when she was 10.

When she announced she would compete at Zones (the regional competition run by USA Swimming) later that year, her mother brushed it off.
It hasn't stopped since.

"Every time she tells her coaches about her next goals, they always say, 'Well, Miranda, those are really big goals, but it's you,'" Diane Tucker says. "I think they've learned not to question her goals like we do. When she says she's going to do something, she does it."

Tucker is unfazed by the thought of her competition, all of which is much more battle-tested than their 15-year-old competitive counterpart. But the Trials isn't exactly uncharted territory for Tucker, who has swam at U.S. Grand Prix events, spending time around those she has long dreamed about calling her Olympic teammates.

In May, she again ran into Schmitt. While Schmitt, who won the 400 freestyle at the Trials in Omaha on Tuesday, now has the experience of one Olympics under her belt, she remembers being in Tucker's situation.

"When I came here four years ago, I had no idea what to expect," Schmitt told reporters this week in Omaha. "I hadn't done a meet this big besides nationals and so I was very shocked at everything.

"I didn't know what was going on."

So when she again ran into Tucker, she passed along some friendly advise, hoping to make Tucker' first Olympic Trials as memorable as possible.

"She told me just to relax, have fun and when it comes time to swim, you just swim and will all come to you," Schmitt told Tucker.

So this week, Miranda Tucker will go through her normal competitive routines, soaking in the environment as best she can. While the experience of being on the Olympics' doorstep will arm her for 2016, she has no plans on short-changing herself having over-achieved like no one believed she could.

For now, she will enjoy the moment, allowing herself -- at 15 -- to cherish what she hopes is just the beginning of her Olympic journey, still amazed that she is where she is.

On the brink of reaching the Olympics six years after she forecasted that she had the competitive wherewithal to realize the kind of dreams just about everyone around her felt were impossible to attain.

"I just smile and think, look how far I've come," Tucker says. "Every once in a while, I have to remind myself, I just made the Olympic Trials."

And in that moment -- removed from the waters that cause her angry face to appear, Miranda Tucker is all smiles.

-- Email Jeff Arnold at jeff.arnold@thepostgame.com and follow him on Twitter @jeff_arnold24.

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