The UCLA diving team won’t be at full strength this weekend when it faces some of the top competition in the country.
The No. 19 Bruins will face No. 2 Stanford and No. 3 California on Friday and Saturday, respectively, without sophomore diver Maria Polyakova, who will be competing in a national diving competition in Russia.
This is a critical blow for the Bruins as Polyakova was in peak form. She posted season-best performances in both the 1-meter and 3-meter springboard events of the Bruin Diving Invitational two weeks ago.
Polyakova’s absence will weaken the Bruins when it comes to scoring points, and it will also have a secondary effect on the team because she will not be there to lead her teammates.
“If these girls ever relied on (Polyakova) to kind of lead the way through the year – which she has because she has mostly won everything she has competed in – they will not be able to do that,” said diving coach Tom Stebbins. “They are going to have to do their own thing and hopefully step up in her absence.
UCLA will instead lean on junior diver Annika Lenz to continue her stellar run of form to keep up with the two highly ranked Bay Area teams this weekend.
Lenz had one of the best performances in her career during the Bruin Diving Invitational where she finished a few points shy of her career mark in the platform event, in addition to top-five finishes in both the 1-meter and 3-meter events.
Another diver who might be able to step up to fill the leadership void is senior diver Montana Monahan. She is coming off of a top-10 finish in the 1-meter event at the Bruin Diving Invitational, but also understands the bigger picture: the Pac-12 championship.
Despite Polyakova’s absence, Monahan said she believes that the goals of the team are not going to change for this meet.
“The goal this weekend is to keep preparing ourselves for Pac-12s and keep moving forward,” Monahan said. “I know we already have a couple girls qualified for NCAA zones, so the biggest goal personally for me is to just make sure I stick to everything I’ve been doing in practice and not overthink it.”
The UCLA swimming team also returns to action after a near two-week hiatus from competition as they attempt to build upon the success they achieved when they swept Boise State and Utah.
Swimming coach Cyndi Gallagher believes her girls are going to be up to the task as the Bruins will host their first home meet of 2016 at Spieker Aquatics Center.
“This is our first home dual meet of the season. Our season started in September, and this is our first home dual meet and people are so fired up about that,” Gallagher said. “We love Spieker Aquatics Center, most of our swimmers’ parents are coming this weekend and it is breast cancer awareness so it is meaningful. This is more than just a regular meet.”