Missouri divers impress at USA Senior Nationals

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 | 10:35 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Four Missouri divers put on impressive performances last week at the USA Senior National Championships in Iowa City. Three divers qualified for the Olympic Trials, while freshman Loren Figueroa proved herself to be among the best 1-meter divers in the country. 

Figueroa won a silver medal, scoring 283.90 points in the 1-meter dive, just 2.5 points behind Kelci Bryant, a 2008 U.S. Olympian and the defending 1-meter NCAA champion. Her impressive performance at nationals comes two weeks after she shattered Missouri's school record in the 3-meter dive against Iowa State.

“It made me feel like I belong with everybody else, that I can be as good or better than everyone else,” Figeroa said.

After two strong weeks, Missouri diving coach Jamie Sweeney said he is excited about what Figueroa could accomplish.

“That girl has more athletic ability than any diver I’ve ever come across," Sweeney said. “There’s no reason why I shouldn’t think that if Figgy and I work together, we could win a national championship.”

However, there is no 1-meter diving event at the Olympics, so Figueroa's silver medal will not qualify her for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. But, her three teammates did qualify.

Freshman David Bonuchi qualified for the Olympic Trials in both the 3-meter and 10-meter events while senior Dante Jones and junior Christina Gailey both qualified at 10 meters.

Bonuchi also took second in the synchronized men's 3-meter springboard (another non-Olympic event), diving with 16-year-old Amherst, Mass. high school student Michael Hixon. The score earned them an opportunity to compete at the FINA Grand Prix in May.

Sweeney said he was pleased with his divers' performances, but recognized the importance of next month's competition. The only way for divers to qualify for the NCAA Championships is at the Diving Zone Championships, Mar. 10-12.

“It doesn’t matter how you are every day in practice, it matters how you do in the meet," Sweeney said. "That’s what sports are all about and that’s where I have a lot of confidence in our divers.”

As a final tuneup before the Diving Zone Championships, the Missouri diving team will compete Feb. 23-26 at the Big 12 Championships.

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