Senior diver Matt Morrison dashes up the steps of the 3-meter diving board in the Athletics and Events Center Aquatics Pavilion during the men’s swimming and diving practice on a Monday afternoon. He shakes out his hair and uses his shammy to dry himself off limb by limb before approaching the edge of the platform. He stands frozen for a moment before launching himself into the air. He flips 3 1/2 times and enters the water headfirst. It is a dive Morrison has performed hundreds of times, a dive he will work every day to perfect until the NCAA Championships in March 2015.
Over the past three years, diving coach Mike Wantuck has seen Morrison as one of his most athletically gifted divers as he has grown into his position in the Ithaca College diving program. Morrison has broken all four of the college’s 1-meter and 3-meter diving scores, and he is an All-American and NCAA finalist.
But Morrison said, coming into his Division III diving career, he wasn’t sure how long he’d stay on the team, since he is a music education major — a huge time commitment on its own. After one year, however, there was no looking back.
“Coming into IC my freshman year, I really had little to no expectations regarding diving,” he said. “I actually didn’t see myself diving all four years. But after one year on the team, I couldn’t wait to get back on the boards. The team was amazing and I shocked myself with what I was actually capable of.”
Wantuck said Morrison was one of the most talented divers he has seen coming into the program and attributed the success Morrison has had to his diver’s personality and his personal coaching style creating a perfect combination.
“He was very spastic when I got him here, and I think [Matt] would say that too, but he responded to my coaching very quickly,” Wantuck said. “When you have new athletes that come into the program, you hope that they come in and acknowledge that they’ll need to change certain things. And you just don’t know if kids are going to click, but he did.”
This camaraderie between diver and coach has allowed the pair to highlight Morrison’s strengths and focus on his weaknesses to make him one of the most well-rounded divers in Division III. Additionally, for the past two years Morrison has been the only male diver representing the college.
This is both a blessing and a curse, according to both Wantuck and Morrison. While it has allowed Morrison the time to really focus on his dives and his competition, Morrison said it is difficult to go to meets and compete against teams with as many as five other male divers.
Head swimming and diving coach Kevin Markwardt said while Morrison is a key player on the team, being alone during competitions can make earning points hard.
“It’s a huge problem because if he wins his events, we still only outscore the other team by one point,” he said. “So we’re at a disadvantage because we’re never really going to gain anything, whereas in past years there’s been a number of divers who outscored other teams consistently.”
But Morrison, according to Wantuck, has enjoyed training with the women’s team. Morrison said he feels all divers have common ground in which they can relate.
“Divers understand one another like nobody else, and with such a fear-based sport, we need each other,” he said. “While it’s harder for the girls to relate exactly to the harder dives I’m doing, all the training and ultimately the success comes from a good work ethic and a want to be better. Talent and gender don’t really matter.”
Most of all, Wantuck said he is one of the most important divers on the team because he is the true veteran on the squad this season. He said he believes the highs and lows Morrison has experienced make every other diver around him want to work just as hard as he does.
“It’s by his leadership that you see [the younger divers] learning,” Wantuck said. “When I see him … telling them his stories about how he was his freshman year versus how it’s all come together for him, to see just how empowering it is to the other freshman because maybe it can click for them the same way, is something that I truly value.”