*During the current hiatus of collegiate sport action, UChicago Athletics is running a story series throughout the spring and summer called "Maroon Moments", which will highlight some of the top performances and most pivotal contests from the last two years across all Maroon athletic teams.
CHICAGO – At the conclusion of the 2020 University Athletic Association (UAA) Swimming & Diving Championships, the University of Chicago divers were on a roll. The women had swept the top four places in the one-meter dive and took four of the top five in the three-meter dive. The men tallied a pair of runner-up finishes, along with a third-place showing on the one-meter board. The arrow was pointing up for the Maroons as they prepared for the upcoming regional meet.
Two weeks later, UChicago dominated the NCAA Diving Regional with a historic group performance as all six divers qualified for the NCAA Division III Championships.
UChicago Head Diving Coach Becky Benson felt the UAA meet was the jumping off point that spurred her athletes to the next level. "The UAAs were a good test for my entire team, especially my three freshmen, to try new things we had been working on in a championship setting," she said. "The results for our entire swimming & diving team gave my kids a lot of incentive to perform well at Regionals. They all wanted to qualify so they could add as many points to our team total at the NCAA Championships."
The NCAA Diving Regional, hosted by Denison University, was the two-day meet that would determine who would advance to the NCAA Championships. A total of 22 men and 22 women competed on both the one-meter and three-meter boards during the weekend competition.
For the UChicago women, it was a familiar stage. Senior Agnes Lo, sophomore Elizabeth Cron and sophomore Alice Saparov were returning All-Americans who had reached the NCAA national meet the year prior. In 2019, Lo finished national runner-up in the three-meter dive and third in the one-meter dive.
"They know what it's going to feel like in that qualifying meet," Benson said. "It is a very intense competition with difficult judging. What my returners did brilliantly was allow my freshmen (50 percent of my team) to have fun, calm down and gather confidence from their experience."
There were new faces accompanying the veteran Maroons in 2020. Andrew Chen and Logan Sherwin were making their collegiate debuts for the men alongside Evanna Peng for the women. It was a new challenge for the trio of rookies with plenty on the line.
"My young men were nervous; it's a pressure-packed situation," said Benson. "I know Andrew and Logan trust me so I asked them to simply continue trusting in me and my faith in their abilities. Just letting them know that their coach wants to absorb their self-doubt is very helpful."
Benson's confidence in her divers came from their solid fundamentals and ability to execute. As long as they maintained composure, she felt good about their chances to succeed at the regional.
"The Maroons are good divers, but what sets them apart from other teams are their voluntary dives," Benson said. "These are the front dives, back dives, the simpler dives. The Maroons make these dives look effortless and graceful and that earns them high scores."
From a coaching perspective, Benson wanted to make sure her athletes stayed sharp and confident. Her message remained consistent as it had all year. "The only thing I say to my divers before any competition is, 'Remember, I love you no matter what!'"
Day one action kicked off with the men's three-meter dive. Sherwin excelled throughout the 11 rounds and placed second with 469.30 points. Chen took eighth in the event by scoring 412.20 points. Then the women's one-meter dive was on tap. For the first time in program history, the Maroons swept the top four places on the podium. Cron claimed her first career regional title, winning the event with 458.25 points. Lo was runner-up on the board with 446.85 points, followed by Saparov in third (424.35 points) and Peng in fourth (419.50 points).
"I knew in the warm-up on the first day of competition that my kids came to compete," said Benson. "They looked powerful, focused and happy. If I see smiles, I know it's game on."
Those good vibes crossed over to day two. UChicago's women replicated the previous day's feat by grabbing the top four spots once again in the three-meter dive. Cron picked up her second title of the weekend with a winning score of 457.10 points, with Lo close behind her at 453.30 points. Saparov (442.75 points) and Peng (439.80 points) placed third and fourth, respectively.
On the men's one-meter board, Chen vaulted up the leaderboard and placed second overall with 471.50 points. Sherwin collected a fourth-place showing with 431.90 points.
The historic weekend performances were rewarded with six NCAA national qualifiers for the Maroons – their most ever.
"We had talked about that scenario as a team," Benson said. "I did believe it was possible, but they had to believe it. Seeing my women sweep both events and watching my men join them was one of the greatest achievements of my coaching career. They definitely make me proud."