The divers in the hot tub of Spieker Aquatics Center hailed from across the country, representing the myriad of colleges competing in this weekend’s Bruin Diving Invitational.
They were fighting for top scores and for NCAA zone cuts, and yet they lounged like old friends, complimenting each other’s technique and discussing what movies they wanted to see.
“It’s super friendly,” senior diver Karina Silva said. “Only on the end of the board are we competitive. You have to think like that, because this sport is already tough enough, brain-wise.”
This mental balance between focus and relaxation is crucial to success in a sport as instantaneous as diving and is perhaps part of what challenged the talented but inconsistent Bruins this weekend.
“We were exceptional at first, and then we started to get a little tight, a little broken down,” coach Tom Stebbins said. “Physically, we’re right on. It’s just a matter of being able to perform when you need to perform.”
Some of the veteran competitors have mastered this mindset: Tower specialists Silva and senior Laura Winn took second and first place, respectively, during Sunday’s platform competition.
The younger divers, however, struggled to perform when it mattered.
Freshman Paulina Guzman took first place in the preliminary round of Friday’s 3-meter competition before falling to 12th place in the final.
Sophomore Maggy Boyd faced a familiar struggle with inconsistency during Saturday’s 1-meter competition.
Two last-minute dive substitutions worked out in her favor, however, as she achieved a career-best score in one of the dives.
“I started the day thinking I was going to do a completely different list,” Boyd said. “I didn’t make them in warm-up, so I did two new dives that I ended up doing well on.”
The UCLA swim team, which defeated Boise State and Washington State on Saturday, also looked stronger than ever after a month of straight training. The Bruins now have a few weeks of practice to perfect their events before they face off against Pac-10 powerhouses California and Stanford.
The strong performances across the board this weekend show that the Bruins have the talent to hold their own, both in this month’s dual meets and in the upcoming championship season. The only thing missing is that elusive mental toughness that could bring the divers much-needed consistency.
“You have to get to a place where you don’t think your way through,” Stebbins said. “You have to be able to think up to that moment and then react and just do it.”