For divers, the road to the NCAA Championship takes a few steps to travel. First, there are the regular season competitions, which include qualifying for the NCAA Zone Diving Championships. Then, the journey continues with a complicated qualification process at the Zone meet that determines if they receive a berth to the NCAA Championship.
Select Duke divers will be traveling to the Zone meet in Knoxville, Tenn. Monday to take on the competition from Zone B, including divers from states such as Alabama and Florida.
“The Zone meet is very important—it’s the way that you qualify for the national championship,” head diving coach Drew Johansen said. “The preparation is a yearlong process…. Now at the end of the year with all those meets under their belts and just coming off the ACC Championships they should be confident and ready to go.”
The divers who qualified for the Zone meet include junior Nick McCrory, senior Jordan Long, sophomore Clay Pinckney and freshmen Deon Reid, Jaimee Gundry and Kendall McClenney. McCrory, McClenney and Reid have all qualified in three events—the 1m, 3m and platform. McCrory recently earned yet another title—ACC’s most decorated diver. McCrory swept the men’s diving titles at the ACC meet and now owns seven ACC diving crowns in his career.
Regardless of which specific dives they will be competing in, all of the athletes have been preparing for these final competitions throughout the year, using dual meets and other regular season contests as practice. Although some may prefer specific dives or have areas they consider their specialties, Johansen emphasized that the athletes focus on all of their dives, not just their favorites.
“We really try to focus on the whole list of dives,” Johansen said. “In the end [what matters is] the total score of all six dives that they do. So you’re not going to win the meet or qualify for nationals based off one dive—you have to be consistent across all six. So that’s really our focus about the total number of points you can score rather than how many points you can score on one specific dive.”
McCrory, who won a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, echoed this sentiment, saying that although certain dives may appeal to him more than others, there isn’t one he he relies on.
“I am working on some harder dives to put in my list right now so I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes for the rest of the season,” McCrory said. “Platform has been kind of my specialty, that’s what I competed internationally, that’s what my two NCAA titles are on, but that takes a toll on your body after a while. In platform I’ve moved one of my dives that I competed in at the Olympics from 10-meter down to 7-meter so that’s increased the degree of difficulty so that’s one new thing, and in the 3-meter I’m toying with a few new dives.”
Due to the bodily stress accompanying a platform dive, McCrory will be shifting to a focus on springboard dives, highlighted by the fact that he is already debuting new dives in the 3m.
Although he is more focused on the individual dives rather than the broad competition, McCrory named Stanford’s Kristian Ipsen as a strong competitor as well as a friend, noting that they will have an upcoming “showdown” at the NCAA Championship meet.
Other divers, such as Long, are still unsure of their chances of securing qualifying scores, though they are heading into the meet with a compete-to-win mindset. Long has shown significant improvement this season, and will hope to continue this trend in Tennessee.
“He made the final at the ACCs which was one of our benchmarks for him,” Johansen said. “If you’re in that final at the ACC Championships then you’re in the mix at the Zone meet to take that next step, so he’s been doing very well for us this year.”
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As Long and McCrory join their teammates at the Zone meet, they have a tough challenge ahead of them physically, though Johansen noted that he is sure that all of the divers making the trip are prepared for the task at hand.
“You know we usually take from what we’ve learned from ACCs based on how they’ve performed there and we can tweak their training a little bit,” Johansen said. “[But] it’s more the mental approach than the physical approach—the bodies are ready, the divers are ready.”