As she readies for her first dive Thursday in Indianapolis, Maren Taylor will try not to allow her thoughts to linger on what happened the last time she represented the Texas Longhorns at an NCAA championship. She’ll convince herself that her last experience at the meet, when she dislocated her elbow, was just a fluke.
But here’s the mental scene that Taylor will try hard not to recall:
It was Taylor’s first dive on the platform, the meet finale for the divers, as she climbed the ladder to the board, which jutted out about three stories, or 33 feet, above the water.
Once a diver leaps off the platform, gravity will pull her at speeds in excess of 35 miles per hour. Every move has to be precise, or else the impact can be as unforgiving as hitting a pond of cement.
Taylor’s first dive required her to stretch her body into a pike position — bending at the waist, legs straight — so she could complete three-and-a-half somersaults. Just before she hit the water, Taylor, a former gymnast, was supposed to reach out and grab her hands so that she could gracefully complete the dive with little splash.
But her hands were off at impact. She swam to the side of the pool and told her coach, Matt Scoggin, something was wrong. Taylor tried to shrug it off. She decided to attempt the second of three finale dives off the five-meter board. It would be less impact on her hands and arms, but likely would cut back on her scores.
She tried the dive, grabbing her shins in the air and pulling them close, then completing two and a half somersaults. She had good form as she hit the water. But it didn’t matter.
“It was weird,” Taylor recalled last week, before the UT swim and diving team left for Indianapolis. “When I was underwater, I felt my bone move. It didn’t hurt right away. I felt no pain. But I looked down, and my elbow, it looked deformed.
“That’s when I felt the pain.”
Her last NCAA meet ended on a stretcher in the emergency room, as a disbelieving doctor couldn’t comprehend how Taylor had dislocated an elbow in a pool. Big bruises and wrist injuries are far more common.
Scoggin, a former Olympian, understood exactly the physics of it all.
“The force on her first dive weakened her elbow significantly,” Scoggin said.
Taylor’s mother drove to Austin to care for her daughter, who couldn’t even brush her hair and pull it back in a pony tail. Taylor ended up missing all of last season, first to recuperate from the elbow injury, then to rehabilitate a tight, painful back.
But she’s healthy now. As Texas tries for a top-10 finish in the NCAA championships that run through Saturday, the Longhorns will rely heavily on their experienced divers for big scores.
Taylor won the 1-meter springboard last month at the Big 12 championships, then claimed the 3-meter at the NCAA zones to qualify on all three boards for the national meet. Teammate and fifth-year senior Shelby Cullinan will compete on all three as well. She’s had two top-eight NCAA finishes in her career.
Taylor’s focus is now more on the spring board events. The drives aren’t big, spinning dramatic moves, but she’s hoping for top-three finishes on both boards.
Scoggin has his divers practice twice a week off of the platform. He’ll allow each to do 18 dives. Taylor, who also dislocated the elbow while she was a gymnast, is limited to six to nine dives from the highest board. At the NCAAs, she’ll dive at least once from the 5-meter board.
Despite the lingering limitations, Scoggin is expecting good results.
“She’s going to be a force,” Scoggin said.
NCAA WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIPS
Texas swimmers and divers who’ll be competing in the NCAA championships:
50 free: Kelsey Amundsen, Ellen Lobb, Lily Moldenhauer, Samantha Tucker
100 free: Amundsen, Lobb, Moldenhauer, Tucker
1,650 free: Kelsey LeNeave, Kaitlin Pawlowicz
100 back: Sarah Denninghoff
100 butterfly: Amundsen, Gretchen Jaques, Lobb, Moldenhauer
200 back: Denninghoff
100 breast: Jaques, Skylar Smith, Laura Sogar,
200 breast: Jaques, Smith, Sogar
200 free: Tucker, Denninghoff, LeNeave
500 free: LeNeave, Pawlowicz
200 IM: Smith, Sogar
400 IM: Pawlowicz
Relays: 200 medley, 400 medley, 400 free, 800 free, 200 free
Diving: Shelby Cullinan, Maren Taylor