Colorado Swimming and Diving: http://swimdivecolorado.org/
The University of Colorado-Boulder swim and dive team is hoping to "three-peat" by winning another national title this spring.
Last year, Colorado edged out the University of Florida by a close 145 points, and women's team captain Kate Booth said she's confident the Buffs can win again.
"It's going to be tough, but I think we're definitely more than capable of outperforming what we did last year," she said, "as long as we all ... keep pushing through."
Booth, a junior majoring in math and astronomy, is originally from Westminster, Colo., where she was captain of her high school team. She joined the CU team as a freshman and knew she'd found a close-knit community after the team traveled together for the first time that fall.
Booth, a freestyle specialist, was finance director for the team before she became captain. In the fall, she led the team's efforts to plan its own swimming and diving meet, the Buff Invitational, which was held in Thornton, Colo., in October.
The meet served as a fundraiser for the team, which has more than 100 members, and also gave CU a chance to race close to home since they travel many weekends throughout the year.
Booth said what sets the CU team apart from other club teams -- or even varsity programs -- is that everyone on the team swims purely for enjoyment. The team practices every day for two hours, but there's no pressure, she said, so no one burns out from over-training.
"Sometimes people who go swim Division (varsity) feel like they have to for the scholarship opportunities," she said. "We're here because we love the sport of swimming. It gives you that competitive edge that if you want, you can get."
Ellesse Spaeth, a sophomore majoring in civil engineering and a Mullen High (Denver) graduate, specializes in the individual medley, breaststroke and relays. In high school, Spaeth said she had to decide between swimming for a smaller Division I or II program, or attending her school of choice, CU, and swimming for the club team.
Because of other students in a similar position, Spaeth said she thinks CU's club team attracts top athletes.
"Since CU does not have a Division team, we take all the best swimmers," she said. "We just have a really good competitive aspect because everyone comes from a serious swimming background."
On the men's side, CU's Toshi Hirabayashi, 29, is a doctoral student in aerospace engineering while swimming for the club team. Originally from Japan, Hirabayashi is competing again for the first time in 10 years, he said.
Hirabayashi said the team gave him an instant "family" on campus.
Senior Magaret Fox, who was her team's captain at Longmont High, said nationals will be tough this year with more than 60 other teams already registered. Fox added that she's happy to have found a smaller niche community within the CU campus.
"It definitely brought me something to stay close to in such a big school," Fox said. "This team is like my family. We spend so much time together."
--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.