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Kenyon diving takes the plunge

As Lords and Ladies swim warm-up laps and prep for a race with stretches and noise-canceling headphones, six people dance together in their swimsuits on the pool deck. One of them steps up onto a diving board, strides a few steps down the length of the board and then jumps off the end, doing somersaults and twists in the air. These are the members of Kenyon’s diving team and they are an integral part of the prestigious swim and dive program here at Kenyon — but the diving team is often overlooked.

“Most people don’t know that diving is a thing here,” diver Ryder Sammons ’19 said.

The team’s small size is only part of what makes it unique. Only four of the divers went through the recruitment process before coming to Kenyon; the other three are walk-ons. Most joined with no prior diving experience at all. Barry Bai ’20 from Beijing joined the team this year without ever competing as a diver.

“We’re very varied in our skill level,” diver Madeline Carlson ’19 said. “For a dive team, that works just fine.”

Walk-ons like Bai aren’t a liability in diving as they could be in other sports. During practice, Head Coach Andy Scott only has to focus on the diver currently on the board, so he can switch from advising a more advanced diver on an inward pike two-and-a-half to helping the next diver learn a basic somersault.

“In my seven years, we’ve had a girl that was a national champion [Maria Zarka ’16] and kids that have never touched the board prior to being here,” Scott said. “There’s opportunities for kids in this sport if they’re willing to give it a shot.”

Josh Yuen-Schat ’18, who is abroad in Kunming, China, is one example: He joined the team last year and was able to compete by the end of the year.

The walk-ons give new energy to the team. “They’re so excited every time they learn something; it’s awesome,” Scott said. “You get to see so much progress in a short amount of time.”

Ryder Sammons ’19 takes a practice dive into the James A. Steen Aquatic Center pool. Sammons is one of seven on Kenyon’s diving team this season. | Jack Zellweger

Ryder Sammons ’19 takes a practice dive into the James A. Steen Aquatic Center pool. Sammons is one of seven on Kenyon’s diving team this season. | Jack Zellweger

Even with its mix of skill levels, the dive team is an important part of the swimming and diving program. In some meets, the points from their dives are added to those of the swimmers to create the overall score. Kenyon has historically lacked a large diving presence at meets. Just a few weeks ago, the Lords ended up losing the Kenyon Relays meet to Denison University because they did not have enough male divers. They were tied in points off swimming but fell short in total points because Denison scored more points for diving.

But even with their small numbers, the team of divers is able to mix in well with the rest of the program. “At some schools, it’s a swimming and a diving team separately, but here it’s very much a swimming and diving team,” Sammons said.

The perch at the end of a diving board can feel like a pressure cooker for divers. “Diving is the most mental sport I know,” Carlson said. “It’s throwing yourself into the air off the board onto something; it’s painful, and it takes a certain type of person to be able to do that knowing that it might hurt.”

Sammons agreed. “Diving really is a metaphor for a lot of the jumps we have to take in life,” he said.

Finding ways to relax has proven beneficial for the team. Whether that means cheering for newbies when they learn a new dive or dancing on the deck, the Kenyon dive team maintains an atmosphere of amiable competition.

“We’re so friendly with our competitors,” Carlson said. “We know everyone from year to year.” When asked who leads the dancing, she laughed and said, “Probably Ryder [Sammons].”

“If you get too much into your head it just throws you off,” Sammons added.

The Kenyon swimming and diving team will be competing next on Nov. 12 at 10 a.m. against Denison University in Granville, Ohio.