When Missouri diver Evan Watters confidently hoists himself up the slick, wet, ladder to the 1-meter springboard, he is not thinking about how he was a 2001 Nationals qualifier as a senior in high school.
When he walks to the end of the sky blue springboard, feels the wet sandpaper-like surface under his wrinkled bare feet, and balances himself precariously on the balls of his feet, he is not thinking about how he was a two-time Big 12 Diver of the Month as a Missouri freshman.
When he takes a deep breath and slowly increases the height of his bounce before launching himself over the watery depths of the new diving pool, he is not thinking about how he qualified for NCAA Nationals last year.
Instead, when Watters throws his muscular 5-foot-8 body into a reverse 2 1/2 tuck before slicing into the rippling turquoise water, he is thinking about how great it is going to be to do the perfect dive.
“I have to focus on making it back to NCAAs,” Watters said of his goals for this season. “This year I have a better idea of what it takes.”
The senior co-captain from San Antonio, Texas, decided to dive for Missouri because it is where he was born and raised.
Watters has a long family history at MU. Both of his parents attended the university, along with almost all of his aunts and uncles. His grandparents even met at MU. His older brother was attending MU along with six of his cousins at the same time Watters was deciding where he wanted to dive, so MU seemed like the perfect fit.
That family support system has been crucial to Watters’ success. Without his mom’s encouragement, he might not have ever been introduced to diving.
“In sixth grade, in the summer, we had a flier just stuck on our doorstep,” Watters said. “My mom said to go ahead and try it, and the coach said I jumped higher than most kids.”
MU diving coach Jamie Sweeney, who dove for MU for four years, attributes much of Watters’ talent to his natural abilities.
“He is already diving right now as good as he dove at the end of the year last year,” Sweeney said. “If we are already at that point right now, the sky is the limit for where we are going to go this year.”
Perhaps most remarkable is that Watters is back at top form after taking six weeks off this summer because of an injury.
“I got a bad bounce and I flew towards the pool deck and hit my foot,” Watters said of his training over the summer. “It was really detrimental.”
Watters and Sweeney decided that the best thing to do would be to would be to let it heal. Watters stayed on and helped Sweeney coach in order to prepare himself mentally for the upcoming season.
“I got back into it really fast,” Watters said. “The injury is not affecting me now.”
Another hurdle that Watters has had to deal with is the pressure of being a student athlete at MU.
“We come here to practice three hours a day in the water, then we have weights in the morning, dry land other mornings, Saturday practices, and then we have study hall,” Watters said. “We have all these other requirements for being a student athlete. As many benefits as you get, it’s a lot of work...to maintain everything.”
Even so, Watters would not have it any other way. He credits the solid “backbone” of coaches and support staff for getting him through all that is required of him. Sweeney in particular has played huge role in Watters’ college diving career.
Sweeney and Watters dove together for Missouri when Watters was a freshman. Since then, Sweeney’s role has evolved to coach, mentor, and close friend.
“Being a younger coach, you can relate to him so much better,” Watters said of Sweeney. “I really like having a coach as a friend.”
Sweeney says that the transition from teammate to coach has been a smooth one.
“I love Evan to death,” Sweeney said. “He is my buddy, he is my brother, he is like my son, everything. He is such an elite level diver...he is almost irreplaceable.”
Sweeney said that Watters has stepped up and become a role model to the rest of the team. When he talks of the team, he is not talking about only the men divers.
“It’s not guys and girls, that’s for sure,” Watters said. “We’re one team.”