Unlike many of the swimming and diving programs in the Pikes Peak area, most of the girls at Fountain Valley School don't compete at the club level. Each student at the private boarding and day school is required to participate in a sport during two of the three athletic seasons, but academics far outweigh winning championships.
"Kids don't come to Fountain Valley to get DI swimming scholarships," longtime Fountain Valley coach Rob Gustke said. "They come here for really rigorous college prep curriculum and, yes, we also swim."
Enrollment at Fountain Valley is around 230 students, and many of the students come from out of state and some from outside the country. The students are recruited for academics, not sports.
But that hasn't stopped the Danes from having success in the pool. Even with being one of the smallest schools with a swimming team in the area, the Danes consistently get around 20-25 girls who join the team, according to Gustke, who teaches science at Fountain Valley and is in his 20th season as coach.
Last season Fountain Valley finished 7-1 in the regular season and placed 18th at the 3A state meet. Harriet Townsend earned a fifth-place finish in diving.
Townsend, who is from Kansas City, Mo., first started diving when she was 12 after her cousin, who is a Red Bull cliff diver, got her into the sport. Townsend was on small teams when she was young and first started competitive diving at Fountain Valley.
Townsend said that while she hopes to get a scholarship for diving, she's more interested in the sport because of how much she enjoys it.
"I would really enjoy doing well at state and going to state," said Townsend, who is also on the mountain biking and soccer teams. "But I think more as a team dynamic, it's more just to grow and be a better you by being on the team."
Not having girls on the team who swim year-round or focus on one sport is part of the challenge and reward for Gustke.
"I think it's fun coaching because what we get, we kind of build from the ground up," Gustke said. "We typically get a lot of kids admitted to the school who they maybe swam when they were 8 or 10 years old and then they'd given it up, and then they pick it up again. Kids have to play a sport here ..., so we really do live and preach the liberal arts philosophy. It's built into both our academic and sports curriculum."
While Gustke expects to send more swimmers to state this season, the success of the team doesn't center on state.
"I sort of look at our season, I more gauge it relative to our league because we won't have enough fast state qualifiers to really go up and be a top-five team at state, so our league is super competitive."
For Julia Gustke, Rob’s daughter, being on a team with different levels of talent has been fun.
“As a captain and as a senior, you get to help people kind of realize that this is an amazing sport that you will be able to do for the rest of your life, and you get to help them through the team and you get to show them the ropes,” Julia said. “It’s really fun to see them swim faster times and to see them get better, and it’s very satisfying both as a peer to watch your teammates get faster, and when they watch you swim faster times. It’s just a very great team culture.”
Soon, the Danes will have a new athletic facility that includes an eight-lane pool for practice. The athletic center is part of a nearly $22 million project that broke ground this year at Fountain Valley. It includes road infrastructure and parking, a maintenance facility and additional faculty housing, according to Fountain Valley's website.
Coach Gustke said it will be nice to have a better working facility and he does think it may help attract more girls to swimming in the future.
Even so, the bigger goal remains the same for Gustke.
"My goal is for these kids to be good students and just to have swimming be a healthy part of their life," he said.
"My philosophy as a coach, I want the sport to mean more to them in a big picture, real-world sense than just, 'Wow, I got my 100 free time under a minute.' Again, I think that's just part of the school's philosophy to see a bigger picture than just immediately what's in front of them. That's why I love teaching here, because we can kind of have that more well-rounded, global perspective."