Cal women’s dive sends three divers to NCCA qualifier

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With most of the spotlight on the Cal women’s swim team, which just recently swept the podium in the Pac-12 Championships, the diving team is looking to prove that it can be held at the same standard.

The Cal diving team is heading to the NCAA Zone E Diving Meet from Thursday to Saturday. The Bears are sending three of their divers — sophomores Sara-Lina Boushakra and Anne Kastler and senior Kahley Rowell — to represent the women at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

But diving head coach Todd Mulzet has been focusing on the women’s individual abilities rather than the expectations surrounding them.

“I don’t really put expectations on the kids,” Mulzet said. “We’ve just been building a team every year trying to qualify. Our swimming program is world class — the center of the universe for swimming. We’re just trying to catch up.”

This season may be the year to do just that, with Rowell leading the way. The senior returns to the Zone E Meet as a two-time All-American, as well as the eighth-place finisher in last year’s NCAA championships. In 2012, Rowell became the first Cal women’s diver in 21 years to reach the NCAA tournament, when she qualified by taking third in the NCAA Zone E Qualifying meet. She came out of the NCAA championships with a fifth-place finish in platforms.

Traveling with veteran Rowell for what will be her second appearance at the NCAA Zone E Qualifying match will be Boushakra, who finished 10th last year in the qualifying match for platforms. She placed fourth at the 2013 Pac-12 Championships with a score of 257.40 on platforms.

The last diver to represent the women for Cal is Kastler, who will be making her first appearance at the NCAA Zone E Qualifying match this year. Kastler, a former Pac-12 diver of the month, earned this title by placing either first or second against Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA and USC this season. She holds Cal’s top score on the 1-meter board in 2013, with a total of 277.58, which puts her at fifth in Cal history.

“This is the meet that we focus on all year because for this program, it’s the one hurdle they’ve never been able to get past,” Mulzet said. “This team is just diving — there’s nobody in the stands, it’s in a bunker basically in this mountain and it’s just all the zone-diving programs and the coaches and the divers — about 15 people in the stands — but it’s probably the most important event in their lives.”

With only eight divers from each event advancing to the NCAA Championships from this meet, the diving team’s hopes for a shot at the title lie solely with these three women.

“In diving, it’s very similar to golf — you learn the physical sport first — the technical part first — and then there’s the mental game, and that’s just a whole other sport,” Mulzet said. “It’s not like, ‘Let’s pump up and run fast or swim fast’ — the more pumped up you are, the more your muscles get tight, and it’s a lot of stress. They pretty much have the diving perfected. Now, it’s just create the environment where they can go out there and have support and dive well.”

Alicia Fong covers women’s swim. Contact her at [email protected]