"We just didn't have the team last year," interim head coach Brett Hawke says. "We didn't have the leadership. I think we needed that kind of sting. We really needed to go through that to be in a position to contend (this year) so last year was last year.
"We have definitely got leadership this year and the guys are hungry this year," Hawke says. "We feel like we have a team that can compete and that is what we are really happy about right now."
Hawke, who was a key performer on Auburn's first NCAA Championship team, has been directing the Tigers in the absence of Richard Quick, who is battling a brain tumor.
"Swimmers need confidence and we have got that right now," Hawke says. "These guys have been training hard. We feel good about ourselves, we feel good about our chances and we have something to fight for as well in Richard. We feel good about everything right now."
One of the team's leaders is SEC Swimmer of the Year Matt Targett, who will lead the charge in the sprint event. He has a good chance to take down the NCAA record set last year by former Tiger Cesar Cielo, who went on to win a gold medal in the 50 freestyle in the Olympics. Targett personally set or was on relay teams for seven SEC records at the conference meet dominated by the Tigers last month.
Coach Jeff Shaffer's divers have been consistent scorers in the men's national meets and the potential is there for more points this year with SEC Diver of the Year Dan Mazzaferro and Kelly Marx having strong seasons.
Hawke, the SEC Coach of the Year, says scoring points in diving is a key part of Auburn's strategy to make a run at the national title. He notes that each one of Auburn's seven national championship men's teams picked up points in diving.
"Diving is huge," Hawke says. "We feel like we have the best diving coach in the country and some of the best divers."
The Tigers are not favored to win this year's meet, but Hawke says the team has the potential to make a run at the title if they come through in the sprints, Auburn's traditional strength, along with picking up points in the middle distance and distance races in both the "A" finals and "B" finals on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
"People weren't expecting us to be that good at the SECs and they aren't expecting us to be that good at the next level either," Hawke notes. "We are going in as the underdogs and we are pretty happy about that."
The Tigers qualified 17 swimmers and two divers for the NCAA meet. Targett, who won two Olympic medals last summer, is the No. 1 seed in the 50-yard freestyle and the No. 2 seed in the 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly.
Logan Madson is the number two seed in the 200 butterfly and has a solid chance to win that event, something no Tiger swimmer has done at nationals.
"The team has come together real well," says Hawke, who adds, "We are pretty confident we can get the job done."