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Record breaking diver reconnects with sport through community

Junior+diver+Kailee+Payne+transferred+from+Division+l+Marshall+University+to+Ithaca+College+for+her+junior+season.+Payne+held+the+1-meter+dive+record+at+Marshall+University+and+was+named+Conference+USA+Freshman+Diver+of+the+Year.
Rayahna Tryka
Junior diver Kailee Payne transferred from Division l Marshall University to Ithaca College for her junior season. Payne held the 1-meter dive record at Marshall University and was named Conference USA Freshman Diver of the Year.

This season junior diver Kailee Payne has been dominating on the diving board, breaking the pool record at the Henry Kumpf Invitational on Jan. 20 with a score of 306.55 points in the 1-meter dive. 

Payne spent the past two years at Division I Marshall University before coming to Ithaca College. During her time at Marshall, Payne would go on to be named Conference USA Freshman Diver of the Year. Not only that, but during her first year at Marshall, Payne set a pool record of 280.70 in the 1-meter dive, although that record was recently broken. However, she said the struggles around the coaching staff caused her to transfer and become a Bomber.

“I absolutely met some amazing people at Marshall,” Payne said. “Unfortunately, it was a very young coaching staff and I think they didn’t have a proper sense of how to lead a team that felt respected enough as individuals, not just athletes. There was some language, like if you’re an injured athlete, you are kind of just banged up. … So it was just kind of a toxic environment, and if I needed help personally, I felt like I just didn’t have a source to go to.”

In addition, Payne said she values her academics more and has found a major in environmental science at Ithaca College that she loves. She is on her fourth major now, but she talked about how a small liberal arts program gives a more wellrounded approach to education and makes students more invested.

In the 10 competitions and meets in which Payne has participated in this season, she secured a top-three position for nine of them in both 1-meter and 3-meter diving events. Her scores have notably increased since the previous season. Over her two years at Marshall, Payne achieved an average score of 224.70 in the 1-meter (six dives) event, compared to an improved average of 280.75 with the Bombers. Additionally, in the 3-meter (six dives) event, Payne currently holds an average score of 275.84 at Ithaca College, highlighting an improvement from her average of 236.25 at Marshall.

Head swimming and diving coach Mike Blakely-Armitage 00 emphasized the strength of the diving program at the college. Although it’s a small school, it’s one of the top Division III programs for women diving in the country, currently ranked No. 30 this season.

“I would say our Division III diving program for women is perennially one of the best in Division III,” Blakely-Armitage said. “She knew that coming in and I think that was probably really attractive to her. But she also knew that she’s going to be able to achieve her end goals, but the process goals … enjoying the sport, wanting to be around good teammates, having a good relationship with her primary coach is also important and that’s largely why people transfer.”

Payne is an Ithaca native and went to Ithaca High School. Chris Griffin, the aquatics coordinator and diving coach at the college, said that in high school, Payne would make trips up to the Ithaca College clinic to work on her diving with the coaches at the time. It’s a relationship that has been around for years now.

“I knew that there was a positive coach-athlete relationship, and I thought she would be a good fit for our dynamics, and I knew that she was a quality diver who could hopefully help us out on the boards,” Griffin said.

Unlike Marshall, Payne highlighted the warm-hearted coaching staff that is at Ithaca College. She said that although he is a very supportive coach, she does not work with Blakely-Armitage as much, just because he sticks more on the swimming side of things. Payne said as a diver she works with Griffin more and that he always lightens the mood and makes sure to check in. 

“He will always say that I respect you as a person more than an athlete, sometimes not those exact words, but that’s my interpretation,” Payne said. “Because if you’re not doing well as a person, how can you do well as an athlete. … He also is just a very, very silly person, a very silly coach, and that translates into his athletes. So we are out there just being big goofballs.”

Graduate student Abby Marraccino, in her fifth season with the team, discussed how Griffin always builds close connections with all of his athletes and how he welcomes everyone in with open arms.

“Our coach Chris, he does a really good job at making sure transfers and [first-years] just automatically feel welcomed and he kind of just makes really close one-on-one connections with everyone,” Marraccino said. “And I’ve seen it with Kailee and other divers. But just finding what works for her on the boards has been really helpful and he kind of just knows what she needs now and is getting to know her on that level to help her.”

Certainly, the coaching staff plays a crucial role in shaping an athlete’s experience in a sport. During her time here, Griffin said his main goal for Kailee is to just enjoy the sport as much as she possibly can.

“This year was really about falling back in love with the sport, learning how to enjoy the sport, learning how to love it,” Griffin said. “And through that, let’s see how far we can go. We do have some goals. We have some expectations. We have some things we’re trying to get, but ultimately, it’s trying to enjoy each day, trying to enjoy the sport, knowing that there’s some end season goals that involve going past NCAA regionals.”

Just like a coaching staff, team culture is extremely important to whether you appreciate the sport that is being played. Payne gave high appraisal to a few of her teammates as mentors and people that have influenced her while at the college.

“I love diving, because it’s a very kind community,” Payne said. “The people are just friendly and very infrequently do you find anybody that’s rude or anything. So I will say quite a few of my teammates, like Abby Marraccino, Eliza Salus and Audrey Scott, they have left big imprints on me because of how they have approached the sport. They want to enjoy it, they are motivated, they are going to push themselves even if that means being afraid.”

Marraccino described the chemistry and camaraderie of the team and how Kailee takes it to a new level. She brings in an element of comedy that is enjoyed by her teammates. 

“Everyone on our team is super close and she kind of just adds an element of fun,” Marraccino said. “She’s a really goofy teammate and likes to do silly things during practice and at meets. So we all like to just do it with her. And so it’s really fun.”

Payne described a new dive that she learned while being a bomber, which is a front 2 ½ pike with one twist on a 3-meter diving board. Reflecting on the experience, Payne described the opportunities that the college opened up for her to practice her skills.

“The reason that this stood out so much is because it’s kind of a complicated dive, and it’s terrifying to do,” Payne said. “Now, I love it to death, but coming into this environment, I was able to do that dive because at Marshall I just did not feel supported. It was kind of this subconscious feeling that I just couldn’t do a dive. But coming to the school and being able to do that dive kind of opened up so many gates that I never got. That was absolutely a turning point for me.”

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Flynn Hynes, Assistant Sports Editor
Rayahna Tryka, Photographer
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