No. 2 Cal men’s swim travels to Arizona for Northern Arizona University Lumberjack Invitational

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Normally, diving events are a side note in swimming meets, but this weekend, Cal men’s diving will take center stage. The team will head to the mountainous Flagstaff, Arizona for the Northern Arizona University (NAU) Lumberjack Invitational. The Bears will send four male representatives to this eight-school showcase, of which many participants are within Cal’s NCAA qualifying division.

This is the first time that the Cal diving program will compete in the NAU Lumberjack Invitational. The Bears will move away from the November Texas Diving Invitational after participating each of the past four years.

“We have a bigger team, so I wanted to do something a little bit closer so we could take more divers and get the experience,” said Cal diving head coach Derek Starks. “Also, the venue is the same pool we’ll be competing in for NCAA Zones, so it’s the extra added practice of getting into the qualifying venue and diving at altitude, getting a little extra training there. It’s a big training effort toward the NCAAs.”

Each day will feature a different competition, with the 1-meter springboard Friday, 3-meter springboard Saturday and platform Sunday. The springboard competitions will feature a preliminary round before a finals round, whereas platform will only have one final round.

The Bears are in Zone E for the qualifying round of the NCAA championships, which will take place the first week of March in Flagstaff, Arizona as well. Divers must score higher than the qualifying scores — 300, 320 and 300 for 1-meter, 3-meter and platform, respectively — during the season in order to qualify for Zones.

The lone returning member from last year’s team, sophomore Connor Callahan, qualified for 1-meter and 3-meter Zones in a double meet at Utah a month ago. Callahan, who made it all the way to the NCAA championships last year, will look to qualify for platform competitions as well.

Freshmen Johnny Robinson, Jared Kloos and Jackson Gabler will try to put up the first qualifying scores of their collegiate careers. Robinson came close last time out in Salt Lake City, scoring 315.15 in the 3-meter springboard.

“The freshmen are doing really well,” Starks said. “It’s first semester, so they’re adjusting to the life of a collegiate student-athlete. … They’ve been learning that, and how to balance practice and academics. So I think this getting a travel meet where we’re going to be gone a few days is going to be a good testament to how they’ve been training for that, because we’re going to be gone for weeks at a time when we get to championship season.”

Starks may only be in his second year of coaching Cal divers, but he has more than a decade’s worth of coaching experience. More importantly, he was a collegiate diver himself, earning 2006 ACC Diver of the Year honors with Miami. The current Cal divers have certainly benefited from his background, and the results show — the Bears sent both a male and female representative to the NCAA championships in his first year at Cal.

“Overall, they’ve been very consistent with their training,” Starks said. “They’ve been making improvements in their diving, and they’ve been adjusting to the overall improved team atmosphere, and hopefully they’re going to show that this weekend.”

Leo Xie covers men’s swim. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @leoxie_24