Junior diver Eloise Belanger finished in 3rd place on platform at the NCAA Championships this week, after qualifying to compete in all three collegiate diving events.
No. 21 UCLA (5-5-1, 2-4-1 Pac-12) sent seven swimmers and one diver from its 36-person roster to the NCAA championships that ran from Wednesday through Saturday in Columbus, Ohio. The Bruins came in 26th place out of 45 teams competing in the championships with an overall final score of 31.
“Of course, we hoped to do a little bit better,” said diving coach Tom Stebbins. “But I think 26th is pretty much in line with where we’ve been over the last couple of years.”
On day one of the contest, UCLA swimming took home a school record in the 800-yard free relay with a time of 7:01.90, beating the previous record by almost three seconds. The team, consisting of sophomore Kenisha Liu, senior Katie Grover, junior Sandra Soe and senior Margaux Verger Gourson, placed 14th in the race.
The Bruins ended day one in 14th place, with 6 points.
UCLA opened day two of the championships with the 200-yard free relay, in which the team of Liu, Grover, senior Sarah Kaunitz and sophomore Amy Okada finished just over a half a second short of the school-record of 1:29.47 set earlier this season by the same team.
Also on day two, distance swimmers Verger Gourson and Soe both competed in the 500-meter freestyle, and Liu and junior swimmer Emma Schanz each swam in the 200-yard individual medley.
The Bruin’s only diver to compete in NCAA championships, Belanger, finished 20th in the preliminaries for 1-meter diving, missing a spot in the finals.
“Honestly, my 1-meter was very disappointing,” Belanger said. “Even with my worst score of the year, I would have been in the A final and I did 20 points lower than my worst score this year.”
UCLA did not earn additional points, and was in 29th place by the end of day two.
Liu competed in the 200-yard freestyle on day three, but did not advance beyond the preliminaries. Schanz swam in the 100-yard backstroke but finished 35th and did not qualify for finals. Grover returned on day three with a seventh-place finish in the B finals of the 200-meter freestyle.
“As a senior this was pretty exciting,” Grover said. “It was my first time scoring individually, so it’s a personal accomplishment.”
Belanger came in ninth place in the 3-meter dive preliminaries and narrowly missed a spot in the A finals, but placed second in the B finals.
The Bruins finished day three in 28th place with 15 points.
On the final day of competition, Belanger landed 3rd place in the platform diving finals, earning 16 points after just one leap. She beat the fourth place score by 2.75 points.
“I felt great today,” Belanger said. “Originally, I was more of a tower diver and it’s really great to see that it’s still in me.”
Stebbins said that he was excited for Belanger after her top-three finish.
“That was really exciting,” Stebbins said. “It was really really fun to be there and most importantly, to see her allow the work that she’s done for herself over the course of a lifetime to show.”
Soe and Verger Gourson finished the 1,650-yard freestyle one after the other, coming in 31st and 32nd place, respectively.
Liu did not qualify for the 100-yard freestyle, Schanz did not qualify for the 200-yard breaststroke and Grover did not qualify for the 200-yard butterfly finals.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Grover said. “It’s been a great four years and I’m super proud to be a Bruin. But I’m looking forward to taking the next step in my life as a swimmer.”