COLUMBIA — Head diving coach Jamie Sweeney doesn’t hesitate when the question is asked.
Is this the best the Missouri swimming and diving program has ever looked?
“Without a doubt,” he says.
Going on his fourteenth year as a part of the Missouri diving program, Sweeney remembers a lot of Missouri swimming and diving history, too.
He remembers the talent, or lack thereof, the Missouri swimming and diving program used to attract.
He remembers the goals the program used to have, such as qualifying for the zone meet, are now expectations.
But mostly, he remembers the old natatorium the swimming and diving teams practiced in prior to 2005.
“It was just a big box,” Sweeney said. “It was literally the worst Division I natatorium in the entire country.”
The old natatorium once stood on what is now a parking lot located between Stankowski Field and the Trulaske School of Business. It included a single six-lane pool, one 1-meter diving board, one 3-meter diving board and a rectangular patch of water for divers to jump into.
Constructed in 1963, the old natatorium was never built to accommodate advancements in diving technology. So when high-performance diving boards were installed in the '90s, several problems arose.
For one, the natatorium ceiling sat so low, the feet of divers grazed it when they would flip in the air.
“Every once in a while you’d hit one of the tiles on the ceiling with your foot and knock it out,” Sweeney said.
Divers also had to be wary of the pool deck that laid opposite to the diving boards. Jump too far out on a dive and you were met by a face full of concrete.
“It was scary,” Sweeney said. “When you step on the back of the 3-meter board about to do your approach, you would look out and past the end of the board, you wouldn’t even see water. You’d just see the pool deck. You’d have to take two or three steps before you’d see the water.”
Even the diving pool itself was engineered incorrectly. Divers frequently collided with the bottom of the pool because it was so shallow.
“It was hard recruiting the right types of kids to come in here,” Sweeney said. “With a facility like that, you weren’t going to get the most high level athlete.”
But Sweeney’s luck changed in 2003, when plans for the state-of-the-art Mizzou Aquatics Center were unveiled. Although it wouldn’t be completed until 2005, Sweeney finally had something to sell to recruits. They could train in what was arguably the top swimming and diving facility in the country.
This season, redshirt sophomore Loren Figueroa won the SEC 1-meter title. Junior David Bonuchi, who took second place at the NCAA championships in platform last season, won the SEC 1-meter and 3-meter titles.
Sweeney credits some of the success to the new facility.
“It’s just been a snowball effect since 2005,” he said.