F eeling a little down on the Buffs after the football team's 5-7 season?

Still stung that B-ball was snubbed for the big dance?

Maybe following some different Buffs would lift your spirits. Like the men's soccer team, which won a national championship this past season. Or the triathlon team, which won its twelfth championship this spring.

Or the swimming and diving team, which drowned the competition at their big dance in a 1,270.50-point win over second place Florida, only 720.50 points.

"Last year we sent 21 teams out of 34 clubs to a national championship, which I think is pretty good," said Kris Schoech, co-director of CU's Club Sports program, which these three teams are part of.

Club sports includes a smattering of sports, from softball to snowboarding. Unlike varsity sports, there are no scholarships, no recruiting and the students are in charge. These self-propelled clubs at CU aren't all national champions, but many are highly competitive while running their own show.

Still competitive

When she was in high school in Colorado Springs, swimmer Lauren Fowler thought she'd swim for a division team in college.

"Initially, that was my goal: I wanted to swim, I wanted to go out of state," Fowler said.

But after an injury during her senior year of high school, she learned she'd need hip surgery after her freshman year of college.

She chose CU and swam for the club team.


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"When people hear we're club swimming, and initially too, I thought... 'Oh, it might not be what I'm looking for,'" she said.

"But it's still very competitive," she said. "We still get to swim against division teams."

In 2011, Fowler set six school swimming records and earned three gold medals at their final and largest meet of the year.

"We always try and say we're comparable to a Division II varsity program," said men's soccer team president Justin Macauley. "Usually for guys coming in, they understand that level."

Macauley, who just graduated, said he answers a lot of questions about the level of competition in the club from prospective students.

Men's soccer grew to three teams this past season. In August, 150 came to try out for 60 spots, Macauley said.

"We have guys ranging from high school varsity to ex Division I, full-ride guys on the team," he said.

The reasons people end up playing club at CU rather than varsity soccer elsewhere are as diverse as the players, he said. Some don't want to train for long hours every week. Some choose academics first but still want to play competitively. Others would rather live in Boulder for four years than take a scholarship in a less desirable location, he said.

Limited budgets

Patty McConnell, co-director of club sports with Schoech, said that during CU's freshman orientation, about 90 percent of the questions are about club sports. In her 13 years with the program, the numbers of students in clubs has crept up. But it's limited by facilities, and their budget hasn't grown in years.

The program has about a $100,000 budget to divide over 34 clubs and 60 teams, Schoech said. First tier teams -- cycling, rugby, men's lacrosse, snowboarding, to name a few -- receive about $5,000 from the school every year.

Clubs have to travel to be competitive, which means students end up managing fundraising and budgets in addition to practice and game schedules.

"I would say that club sports, by far, has been my best experience with leadership in my entire life," said Macauley, who just finished his second year as the men's soccer president and earned a degree in business management.

"I know when I speak to potential employers, that's one thing they go to on the resumé, straightaway."

Over the years, McConnell said she's watched good organization helped many teams become more competitive.

"When that happens, the team can really flourish," she said.

Active campus

Mike Ricci, coach of the triathlon team, said he often wonders at how the club sports have so many good athletes.

"I think CU, in general, attracts good athletes," Ricci said. "They're skiing, they're doing outdoor stuff, they're active. They're climbing a fourteener on a weekend, and that's just an average weekend."

He added that he ends up with a lot of natural athletes on the triathlon team -- some of whom have never done a triathlon before. But that's OK, he said -- they learn.

"I just want an athlete, because you can teach them so many things," he said.

Fowler said that with Boulder and Colorado in general being in tune with athletics and fitness, she's not surprised that nearly everyone she knows from CU is involved in club sports or intramurals.

"It's a great campus if you want to be active."