Sophomore Anna Belson steps up to the diving board every day, nervous and scared of what’s below. As she readies herself to dive, she swallows her fear of heights, and executes.
When she wanted to dive her freshman year of high school, her then-coach Jen Pollnow said Belson had to learn 3-meter diving. Belson said she would go to her local pool in Hartland, Wisconsin, and not even dive, but just jump off the board and hit the water. Belson said she had to overcome her fear to show that she was strong enough to pursue diving.
“I wanted to show what I was worth, so I worked harder and harder every day, despite being absolutely terrified of heights,” Belson said. “The coach finally let me on the team my freshman year, and it was all fun from there.”
While she still struggles with it to this day, Belson said she has been able to control her fear better ever since she came to college.
With five first-place finishes in the last five meets, Belson has been a large contributor to the Bombers’ 5–2 start. At William Smith College on Nov. 10, Belson set two pool records in the 1-meter and 3-meter diving events with scores of 276.55 and 269.50, respectively.
Despite her individual success, Belson said the records are a team effort, crediting her teammates and coaches.
“My name is the one that goes up on the board, but if it could say ‘Ithaca’s diving team’ that would be more accurate,” Belson said. “I’m putting up the records, but they are my legs. The records are a thanks, a big thank you, to everyone.”
Despite having no juniors or seniors on the team, there has not been a lack of leadership on the diving team this year. New diving coach Chris Griffin said Belson, who is one of six returning sophomore divers, leads by example. He said even from his first day, she’s been focused during practice, always striving to get better, and that has rubbed off on the young team.
“You’re never going to look over and think, ‘Anna’s having a bad day,’” Griffin said. “Every time you look at Anna, she’s working hard, pushing the envelope every day.”
Her teammate, sophomore Lindsey Suddaby, said Belson does not stop once practice is over. On her own, Suddaby said Belson dives for another four hours outside of practice and is always willing to help if another diver wants to practice.
“She comes in at 2:30 [p.m.] and dives with me before I have to go to class,” Suddaby said. “She’ll then keep diving all the way through practice. No one asks her to, she just wants to get it done.”
Suddaby said Belson’s work ethic was apparent as soon as she came to Ithaca College. Her freshman year began with a broken foot, and she was unable to compete for the first half of the season.
Suddaby said despite the injury, Belson never missed weight training and always came to practice to give support to her fellow divers. Belson said she was not even cleared from the walking boot when she convinced the athletic trainers to let her compete in the Bomber Invitational from Dec. 5–7, 2014. In only half a season, Belson was able to earn a trip to the NCAA Championships, where she finished second on the 3-meter board in the consolation finals.
Belson graduated from Arrowhead High School in Hartland, Wisconsin. She was a gymnast for 14 years, but as she kept getting injured, she stopped the sport and started diving her freshman year of high school as something fun to do to keep active.
In three years of high school diving, after missing her sophomore season due to an ACL injury, Belson earned sectional and conference champion by the time she graduated.
Belson said she began to appreciate diving more and more as she progressed through high school and eventually to college. She said the camaraderie of team diving is something that is special for her.
“When someone smacks the water, it’s refreshing to know that a person can laugh it off with their teammates despite being bruised and hurt,” Belson said.
Belson said perfectly executing a dive at a meet is one of the most satisfying things a person can experience.
A collection of injuries, a new coach and the lack of upperclassmen are all things that could have deterred Belson’s diving career, but she said she dismissed those as excuses to not work harder.
Her goal is to return to the NCAA Championships this year, but she said she wants all of her teammates to qualify because they are all talented enough to be there. She said they all push one another to get better, and that the coaches expect nothing less than the best all season.
Belson said to be recruited to a team like the Blue and Gold, which has a long history of success, means there has to be a mentality to rise above everything else and perform.
“You do anything it takes to be the best,” Belson said. “If you’re on this team, you want it. You’re going to succeed because there is no option for failure.”