Cal men’s dive qualifies two divers to NCAAs for the first time this decade

Skip Stubbs / Cal Athletics/Courtesy

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The diving season isn’t over yet.

In a qualify-or-go-home meet, sophomore Connor Callahan and freshman Johnny Robinson made their biggest splashes of the season, both emerging from the NCAA Zone E Diving Championships with tickets to the NCAA Championships later this month.

For the first time this decade, the Bears will have more than one male diver competing in the national championships.

“It was kind of a rough season,” said Cal diving coach Derek Starks. “Throughout the dual meet season, we didn’t really get — I don’t know if we got more than one win or so. But when it came time for championship seasons, both our zone qualifiers stepped up and both gave it their best.”

Each day of the three-day meet featured one event. For each event, a preliminary round took place, followed by the top 18 advancing to finals later that day. Callahan and Robinson needed a top-seven finish in any of the three events to be able to compete on the national stage.

Callahan and Robinson barely made the cut. But all that matters is they did.

Callahan, who made it to the NCAA Championships last year after qualifying through Zones at the very same pool in Flagstaff, Arizona, finished seventh in the 3-meter with 666.05 points to secure his spot in Minneapolis.

The sophomore climbed out of a near 20-point hole from the preliminaries and soared up the standings from 11th place, thanks to his second-best single-round score of the season.

He will also be competing in the 1-meter after finishing 10th on the second day. While this wasn’t a top-seven finish, divers who finish in the top seven of another event only need to finish in the top 12 of their secondary event to compete in nationals.

“He set himself up mentally — he knew that he was going to have to keep his emotion together and put together one of the better springboard events of the season, and he did so on both 1-meter and 3-meter,” Starks said.

Robinson was quite literally the last man to qualify, placing seventh in the platform on the final day of competition with a score of 650.10, more than 30 ahead of eighth place. He picked the perfect time for a season best, both in a single round and combined.

“Through the last several competitions, (Robinson) realized the level of quality that judges are looking for at the NCAA level and he put a lot of effort into this training in the last two weeks, and especially leading up to his last day of events,” Starks said. “There was only one dive that I would call a miss. Other than that, he hit 11 out of 12 dives and he kept his cool through the whole thing.”

The Bears established a sort of home pool advantage at Flagstaff after competing there in the NAU Lumberjack Diving Invitational in November and spending two weeks training in the high altitude in January.

“There was a lot of quality divers that over the last couple of days started dropping off,” Starks said. “You saw their energy and quality showing in their fatigue and our divers were able to keep it pretty consistent throughout the whole weekend.”

It’s rare that a squad of two can make history. But for Cal men’s diving, this last week was historic.

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