Section: Sports

Behind the transformation of the Lords, Ladies dive teams

The new Lords and Ladies dive coach Ron Kontura exhibits an attitude atypical for most diving coaches. “I’m the most competitive person you’ll meet,” he said.

Kontura’s coaching style resembles that of a football or basketball coach. After every dive at practice on Monday, Kontura gives the divers his opinion about their score and how they could improve. His tips usually were simple commands, such as “Don’t drop your elbows,” “trust yourself” and “jump.”

“I bring a skill set with me that is brought from the greatest diving coaches — the greatest coaches in sport[s], but I add my own little personality to it and my personality is very animated and very loud and very intense in a lot of ways,” Kontura said.

Kontura’s involvement in diving began in high school, where he turned to the sport after being cut from the varsity basketball team. After he joined the swim team, he was encouraged by an adult mentor to try his hand at diving, so Kontura did.

From there, Kontura started to experiment on the boards and only committed to diving as a way to stay in shape for baseball season in the spring. Kontura only started to take the sport seriously in his first year of college at Ohio University. “I went from ‘Crash Kontura’ to one of the top divers in the conference [and a] school record holder.”

After graduation, Kontura joined the family business of coaching. “I had some coaches in my family, so coaching was always something I was interested in,” he said. At his first job at Allegheny College, Kontura coached four National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) All-Americans. His coaching career took him all across the country. He worked for the University of Michigan, Illinois State University and University of California-Berkeley.

His most recent job prior to coming to Kenyon was as head diving coach for the United States Military Academy at West Point, a position he held for eight seasons.

When it came time to find a new job, stability, tradition and location were important for Kontura. “In college we competed against Kenyon, so I came to Gambier. We competed here, so I’ve been familiar with the tradition of Kenyon swimming and diving,” Kontura said. The family made a decision to live in Columbus to be closer to Kontura’s home city of Cleveland, “and a little less than a year ago I saw that Kenyon had posted the position and [I] applied.”

In his first year at Kenyon, Kontura brought a completely different diving culture. The first major change he made was moving the time of practice from late-night to midday. “Changing practice time just changes the mindsets,” Kontura said. The time change makes divers question what it takes “to be an elite level diver at an elite level swimming and diving program,” according to Kontura.

Other than just the time difference, the areas Kontura focuses on are unconventional for a typical collegiate diving program. “I remember the first month in the fall, we were just doing very simple, basic, fundamental things,” diver Joshua Yuen-Schat ’18 said. “[As a sophomore walk-on], I really skipped the developmental part of diving, so a lot of focus on the fundamentals for me has been huge.”

Kontura puts an extra emphasis on making sure his divers try new, more difficult dives. “Ron expects a lot from us,” Juviand Rivera ’19 said. “When he sees that you can do [a more difficult dive] … he tells you to shut up and dive.”

When his divers do make mistakes, he shouts a quick reminder at them to make sure that they are focusing on the root of the problem. “A lot of things that he tells us, we know what we did wrong, and that’s just reinforcement of what we did wrong,” Yuen-Schat said.

For the first time, divers are forced to run in the mornings before their practices. “We could be running six to 10 miles a week, and that was definitely a big change for a lot of people,” Yuen-Schat said. Kontura’s focus on cardio comes from his West Point background, where he would have the divers sneak into the West Point stadium and run on the steps every morning.

Kontura’s effect on the program can be seen in the scoresheet at every meet;  three of his divers qualified for the NCAA Regional Meet in Chicago this weekend. “We are better divers than we were last season,” Rivera said.

One diver who has seen significant improvement over the course of this season is Yuen-Schat. The current senior and was abroad for half of his junior season. “The past two years, the Chicago zones regional meet qualification has always been on my mind, but I haven’t necessarily been able to reach that,” Yuen-Schat said. This year, however, Yuen-Schat has made a huge leap, and with the help of Kontura he has been able to put together his first 400-point finish of his college career. “[Kontura] definitely opened up a lot of doors for me this year.”

The Lords and Ladies will have Yuen-Schat, Madeline Carlson ’19 and North Coast Athletic Conference Diver of the Year and Champion Ryder Sammons ’19 representing them at regionals this weekend. Kontura has big plans for these three divers in the near future.

“The goal is to get to Indianapolis and win the NCAAs,” he said. “We want diving to be a contributing factor to adding some banners here.”

The Lords and Ladies divers will compete this weekend in Chicago at the NCAA Division III Diving Regionals, as they attempt to earn a spot in the lineup for the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis.

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