When 19 of the 21 events at the annual NCAA Division II Swimming & Diving events fall in the “swimming” category, it’s easy for diving to seem relegated to the sport’s backburner. But at UCSD, it’s an important component of the team’s overall success strategy, particularly on the men’s side where senior Andrew Skewes is a force to be reckoned with. The 24-year-old Sacramento native out of Christian Brothers High School (and nearby San Diego Mesa College) was a point-scorer on both the one and three-meter boards at last year’s NCAA meet and he’s already qualified on the latter for the 2008 event. “Andrew is a very talented diver—natural and graceful on the board, but also very powerful,” says first-year Triton diving coach Mark Anderson. “He very much has the potential to place in the top eight on both boards at the NCAA Championships.” With the holiday break marking the halfway point of the season, Skewes took time to discuss some of the particulars of his sport and what he expects by the time the NCAA’s roll around in March.
Q—What was the impetus for you to take up diving?
SKEWES—My sister was a diver at a neighborhood swim club in Sacramento. She encouraged me to take up the sport when I was seven years old. Unfortunately, the program was cut because of escalating insurance rates, so I replaced diving with soccer. The summer before my freshman year in high school, my dad learned about a diving coach who was recruiting for my school. He gave her my phone number, she called me, and my diving career was resurrected at age 13.
Q—How long does it take a diver to become at least moderately proficient?
SKEWES—Diving is like any sport; it takes dedication, practice, and time. Most divers I have known began with or had experience in gymnastics. I did not. So I had to work harder and do more dives in a practice session than is normally required. The most import aspect for a diver to be proficient is to not be afraid and I still struggle with this sometimes.
The time it takes to become moderately proficient in diving depends upon the athletic ability of the diver, the coach, and how much an influence the fear factor has.
Q—Are different skills required for the one and three-meter boards? Explain.
SKEWES—The format for competition on each board is the same but the higher the board, the more time there is to complete a dive before you reach the water. For example, a diver will complete more summersaults from the 3-meter board than from the 1-meter board. For 1-meter, I only do 2.5 forward somersaults, but on 3-meter, I do 3.5 somersaults. The 3-meter allows the diver to complete more rotations in the air, but it also requires better timing and increases the chances for a diver to flop.
Q—What types of “land” drills do divers use to perfect their craft?
SKEWES—Sit-ups and lunges. Legs and abs are the most important muscles on a diver. Often we spend a majority of a practice working out our legs. Legs are so important because a combination of springing off the board and jumping increases your height and allows you more time to complete your dive. Having a strong abdominal is important because every dive starts with the abs.
Q—For the uninformed, explain the format of a championship diving meet?
SKEWES—Divers qualify to “try out” at the NCAA Championships by reaching a certain score in regular competition during the season. This hurdle takes place at the NCAA’s and is called a “Dive In”. At the Dive In we all perform six dives; the top 16 divers advance to compete in the national event.
The competition is then broken down into preliminaries and finals. During preliminaries, all divers perform 11 dives, six “optionals”(the harder dives) and 5 “voluntaries” (the easier dives). Finals consist of the top eight divers from preliminaries repeating their 6 optionals. The score from this second set of optionals is added onto the preliminary voluntary number for a final score.
Q—When you compete at a facility that’s new to you, such as the Mizzou Aquatics Center where the 2008 NCAA D-II Swimming & Diving Championships will take place, what types of things do you look for during pre-meet practice sessions?
SKEWES—One of the tricks to diving is knowing where you are in the air. When I’m spinning or turning quickly I can lose track of where I am. So, I always look for and find a point of reference in the pool. When I stand backwards on the board, I always use the diving board as the point of reference. That’s almost like diving at home. But when I stand forward on the board, I have to find a new point of reference. I try to use the water but when I flip or spin in an indoor pool, the ceiling looks like the water so looking for the water while I’m spinning usually ends painfully. I try to look for swimming lane lines or people in the area, as long as they are standing still.
Q—Give us a quick scouting report on the 2007-08 UCSD men’s and women’s diving teams?
SKEWES—This year’s teams are strong and deep. For the men, Jeff Bryant is probably the most promising and I expect that he will qualify for NCAA’s in the winter quarter. Along with Jeff, Arron Cantu and Kevin Sullivan are potential qualifiers for the NCAA dive in.
The women’s team is younger and constantly improving. By next year, I think they will not only have a number of qualifiers but could dominate the national meet. Danie Niculescu and Jen Lappe both have two more years with Mark Anderson. They might make this year’s NCAA meet but will definitely be there in the future.
Q—You’ve had a changing cast of coaches in your three years at UCSD. What has first-year Coach Mark Anderson brought to the program and has he helped your performance?
SKEWES—Mark is my fourth coach at UCSD and is the first coach that I believe will be here for the long haul. Diving coaches are difficult to find and I think, and hope, Mark plans on staying with UCSD.
Diving is such a mental sport that when I stand on the board I am battling with my mind more than anything else and sometimes my brain gets in the way. Mark gets me to shut my brain off so that I can just dive naturally. Mark understands the mental position of a diver so he does not put forceful pressure on us. He pushes me without me even knowing it. He gets a crazy idea for me to throw-in a difficult new dive and his confidence makes me think I can really do it, so I attempt the dive even if I’m afraid and if I get hurt he manages to get me back on the board to do it again.
Mark’s style of coaching utilizes dry-land practice to gain strength and flexibility. He makes us run from the pool to RIMAC while he skateboards beside us.
Q—What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you on a diving board?
SKEWES—So many answers... I think the worst diving accident I have ever had happened at nationals last year. I thought the wall of the indoor pool in Buffalo, NY was the water but it wasn't, and I smacked the water really hard from the 3-meter board. The divers who witnessed the accident told me it was the worst smack they have ever seen. That day I left the pool with a black eye, a bruised body, and a nosebleed that lasted three days—and a bruised ego. Thankfully, everything is healed.
Q—Is diving typically a “lifetime” sport? What other sports do you participate in or enjoy?
SKEWES—For those of us who really get hooked on diving, it is a lifetime sport. It is a rare sport and I plan on participating in for the rest of my life either coaching or diving. When I’m not in the pool, I am usually in the ocean surfing with the divers and swimmers on our team. We all can’t get away from the water.
Q—You went to high school in Sacramento. What differences have you found between Northern and Southern California?
SKEWES—I realize that San Diego is more conservative than my hometown Sacramento. Other than that, and the weather, I don't see too many differences. Except the word “hella.” I guess people don't say that word down here.
Q—What is your major, when are you expecting to graduate and what kind of post-graduate plans do you have?
SKEWES—I don't really have any plans yet. I was planning on graduating after winter quarter but I think I might stay through spring and start an internship. I work at a restaurant now and I don’t know if I’m really ready for that 9-to-5 job.
Q—How do you feel about New Year’s Resolutions? Anything you’ve got in mind for the coming year?
SKEWES—To be honest I can’t stand resolutions but this year I will try to eat less McDonalds.