Redwood diving team plunges into season with ambitious attitude


Bennett Vasquez

As the water glistens below the diving board, senior Lauren Smart inhales and elegantly lifts up her arms to compose herself. With a sharp intake of breath, she anticipates a hurtling launch down. To Smart, after launching off the board the world slows down, and an eternity passes before crashing back down into the water. She is cautious, though, of the dreaded experience of hitting the board—not going far enough over the water or hitting her head on her flip down. That thought lingers in the mind of many divers, but Smart says it is a mental challenge that must be overcome.

“The biggest challenge is getting yourself to go as high as you can, close to the board, and then come back down on your hands and head. I know a lot of athletes struggle trying to land on their head because we are so used to landing on our feet especially in gymnastics,” Smart said.

Redwood’s diving team is most attractive to ex-gymnasts and parkour students as well as to former members of the swim team, according to Smart. In past years, the diving team would have been lucky to fill in the eight spots on their roster, however, this year they had nearly 20 divers try out, all of them with various abilities and skill levels.

The team is led by coach Miranda Mass, who has been involved in the sport for over 28 years. A highly acclaimed diver, Mass has five world championships, three world records and 25 national titles. She is also the coach for the Drake diving team, so divers practice at Redwood’s pool on Mondays and Tuesdays, and then travel to Drake for the rest of the week’s practices to master their dives.

For Mass, diving is a nuanced sport that requires mental toughness in addition to physical fitness.

“Diving is super fun. I mean, it is really cool to be able to surprise yourself that you can do flips and twists. It is a huge challenge. I think when people look at diving they think it is probably easier than it is and then when they try it, they realize that it is a mental sport,” Mass said.

There are only two returning divers this year, and Smart is one of them. Smart was a level eight gymnast but was forced to end her career after a devastating shoulder injury during her sophomore year. As she could no longer pursue gymnastics, she made the decision to transform her expertise in flipping and spinning on the diving board last year.

Being an excellent gymnast, however, is not a requirement in order to join the diving team, according to Smart. Basic dives are taught during tryouts, and Mass evaluates each diver regardless of skill.

“If you’ve never dove before, you could get all the basics down, and throughout the week the coach evaluates you and sees if you have potential, like if you are putting yourself out there and seem dedicated and are learning through what she is telling you to do,” Smart said.

Diving plays a large role in returning sophomore Nic Murgel’s family. His mother dove in college and encouraged him to join the team during his freshman year. Since then, he has fallen in love with the sport despite the occasional back flops that come with it. He made all of his 11 required dives to make MCALs last year, but broke his foot before playoffs started.

“I’m going to look at it as more of a serious sport because last year I kind of just messed around and this year I see it as an actual time commitment. So I am practicing my dives on my neighbor’s trampoline and on Thursdays I’m going to go to Juan’s Gym and practice with their foam pit,” Murgel said.

This year, the team hopes to qualify more divers so they can move beyond their regular season. More committed individuals on the team will allow more divers to advance on to MCALs, something only Smart was able to do last year.

“The determination and focus were pretty weak so we struggled a lot to get to our 11 dives. I was the only one who made it all the way, which was a bummer. So it is nice to have new people,” Smart said.

Smart already sees an improvement in the team’s focus with more athletes who have already dived before joining the team, a sentiment echoed by Murgel.

“The different mindset will affect me by giving me more responsibility for my dives and I think the team will hopefully follow in my footsteps and take it seriously by pushing themselves to try out new dives,” Murgel said.

The team has grown closer this year by carpooling together to practices at Drake and having team lunches, according to Smart. Smart thinks the more cooperative community will help the new divers feel more comfortable on board.

“On the car ride home I’ll give them tips like, ‘You need to stay relaxed,’ ‘Fall backwards,’ ‘There is not much effort needed,’ [and] ‘You just stay tight and trust the process’,” Smart said.

The diving team is preparing for their first matchup against Novato on Feb. 15 at Drake.