For the first time in more than nine years, UC Davis will have representatives competing in this week’s NCAA Zone E Diving Regional — a pair of freshmen, no less.
But despite it being a breakthrough, head coach Phil Tonne is not treating this like it’s a one-time deal. The hope is that his young divers — Lucy Lafranchise and Hanna Tears — use the meet as a springboard for promising Aggie careers.
Both of the local women exceeded the required scores to participate in this year’s regional, which will get under way Wednesday at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Cadet Natatorium in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Tonne is fully aware of the duo’s status as underdogs, as the Aggie pair will be in a pool of more than 50 veteran divers. Only the top six will qualify for the March 21 NCAA Championships.
But the coach considers their very presence a victory — especially after UCD’s top returning diver, senior Jennifer Meyer, was sidelined after shoulder surgery last summer. In fact, Tonne said the campaign has seen its share of unforeseen events:
“We have a really young squad, so I really didn’t know what to expect going into it. It has been a pleasant surprise. It was a fun year, and also we had plenty of firsts.”
Early in the season, Tears eclipsed a previous program best on the one-meter board by scoring a 278.40. The first-year Aggie followed that dive with a 292.35 on the 3-meter board, which narrowly missed another spot in UCD’s records books.
The scores were enough for Tears to earn regional qualification for both low and high boards. Tonne admits to being taken aback by the performance of Tears, who is a native of Trabuco Canyon with a background primarily in gymnastics.
Lafranchise was more of an expected payoff after being recruited for her successful prep diving career in Bakersfield. She will compete on the regional’s one-meter board, coming in with a best score of 266.48 set at a meet in her hometown pool at Cal State Bakersfield earlier this season.
During last month’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships, the duo combined forces with their fellow Aggies for the highest diving finish during the tower competition at Air Force, diving off the same boards they will use at regionals.
“It’s a lot of help that we’ve been there before,” Lafranchise said. “We know the boards, and we don’t have to test them out to see which one works better, we already know.”
While the divers’ familiarity with the venue may work to their advantage, working against them is the disparity in exposure to national competitions when compared to a mostly veteran cast of opponents.
“Neither of the girls have experience in big meets,” Tonne said. “That’s part of why I really want them to go there, more so that they can gain that experience. I want them to realize they can be competitive at that level.”
Taking everything into consideration, Tonne has been sure not to place any unnecessary pressure on the Aggies. His only expectation is that they will learn from the encounter:
“Hopefully, they’ll see how the NCAA-level athletes deal with the big meets. In dual meets, each dive takes about half a minute, but when you have to sit around and wait 25 minutes between dives, it’s hard to keep focused.
“I hope they learn by watching the girls do harder dives, so they can start formulating it in their minds. We have set goals already for learning new stuff in the spring, so it will help to see it done.”
If Lafranchise and Tears do end up among the top six, they secure a ticket to Indianapolis alongside UCD junior swimmer Liliana Alvarez, for the NCAA Championships.
For now, the two Aggie divers have subscribed to their coach’s attitude of taking things slowly but with long-term goals in mind.
“We’ll just do our best,” Tears said. “We’re just going into it like it’s a normal meet. When you start over-thinking it is when you usually mess up.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at email@example.com or 530-747-8052.