COLUMBIA — In the days leading up to Missouri’s swim and dive meet against Missouri State, diving coach James Sweeney noticed freshman Clark Thomas could barely walk up the stairs.
Thomas has been beating himself up in the weight room as part of the early-season training program, Sweeney said. Despite the soreness that accompanied Thomas on the board, the freshman managed second-place finishes in the 1- and 3-meter diving events in Missouri’s victory over Missouri State.
“When I get into the meets, I don’t want to be thinking about how hard weights were yesterday or how I’ve been doing in practice,” Thomas said. “In the meets, I’m just trying to think about what I can do right.”
Thomas did plenty right on Saturday. He scored a 364.65 in the 3-meter event and a 315.23 in the 1-meter event, exploding off the board and twisting through the air with no ill-effects from the extra sessions in the weight room.
The only diver that outperformed Thomas was his teammate, junior David Bonuchi, whose score of 435.75 on Saturday is among the best in the country this year, Sweeney said. Bonuchi did not perform head-first dives in the team's first meet because of a fracture in his hand.
On Saturday, with his hand still heavily wrapped for protection, Bonuchi launched himself off the board with an unmatched intensity, attempting the most difficult dives of the day. Missouri's fans got louder each time Bonuchi flipped through the air in a blur, launching himself higher off the board with every dive.
Bonuchi led the Tigers on Saturday, winning both men’s diving events. In all, Missouri had four of the top-five finishers for both men's events.
Thomas has benefited from having Bonuchi around to learn from and compete with.
“Having David around, he (Thomas) can see what needs to be done and just sort of plays follow the leader and tries to keep up with him,” Sweeney said, who was wearing a pink shirt for Missouri's Swim for the Cure meet. “He’s going to get there. He’s got the talent, he’s got the work ethic, and he just needs the time.”
Thomas, who grew up diving in the Kansas City area, has been diving with or against Bonuchi, a Hickman graduate, since he was 12 years old. His familiarity with Bonuchi is part of what drew Thomas to dive for Missouri.
“I’ve always aspired to be that good,” Thomas said. “Now that I’m in the same pool as him, training every day with him, it’s a huge step up for me.”
As the season continues, Thomas and the Tigers will ease up on the weights and hope to improve on the early-season scores. Sweeney trains his team hard in the first month with an eye on the long-term benefits.
“We’re not expecting the biggest scores yet,” Thomas said. “The fact that I can still kind of hang and put good scores in shoots my confidence up a lot. We’re looking pretty good for down the road.”
With two wins in the first two meets, Missouri now is set to host Arkansas, Kentucky and Southern Illinois next Friday in the Tigers' first meet against SEC opponents as a member of the conference.