Maria Polyakova is an NCAA champion.
The redshirt senior led No. 20 UCLA swim and dive (8-3, 4-3 Pac-12) at the NCAA Championships this past week in Austin, Texas, taking home the individual title in the 3-meter to become the program’s first-ever individual diving national champion.
“(It’s) the best feeling ever,” Polyakova said. “Throughout the competition I was really calm and my coach put a lot of trust in me, and I just trusted him and myself.”
Polyakova kicked off the NCAAs with a second-place finish in the 1-meter, scoring 346.90. Senior Eloise Belanger also finished in the top five in the 1-meter, scoring a new season-best of 320.80.
When it came to the 3-meter, Polyakova finished with a final score of 396.00 – less than three points behind her program record and over 15 points ahead of the second-place finisher, Brooke Schultz of Arkansas.
“I think the biggest difference-maker was really in her third round when she did one of the best reverses she has ever done in a meet,” said diving coach Tom Stebbins. “She often does that stuff in practice, but she just hasn’t ever done it that well in a meet and when she did that, all of a sudden the air kind of went out of the room and everybody else started to make mistakes.”
The only Bruin to ever win an NCAA diving title was Doug Shaffer in 1986, who is the current diving coach at LSU.
“We had set this as a goal a couple of years ago – finding a way to bring an NCAA title back to UCLA,” Stebbins said. “It was something that had never been done on the women’s side.”
Belanger also posted a lifetime-best score of 378.75 to secure fourth place in the 3-meter, missing out on a top-two finish by less than two points.
On the final day of the championships, Belanger finished ninth in platform, making her the highest-scoring diver at the NCAAs.
“To put herself into a position where she could really be excellent and to perform the way that she did was really gratifying for me,” Stebbins said. “I’m hoping for her because she has goals beyond collegiate diving as well. I hope that this will serve her well moving forward.”
On the swimming side, freshman Claire Grover notched the best individual performance, finishing 22nd in the preliminaries for the 50-yard freestyle Thursday.
Grover, freshman Delaney Smith and junior Maisie Jameson swam a season best in the preliminaries for the 400-yard relay Saturday to take 25th place. Senior Sandra Soe also swam the mile for the last time in her collegiate career Saturday and finished in 33rd place.
As a team, the Bruins took 17th place in the NCAA Championships. Polyakova won the award for CSCAA Diver of the Year and Stebbins was named the CSCAA Diving Coach of the Year.
“(It’s) the best way to end my career,” Polyakova said. “I just performed. I knew that I could and I did it.”