March 18, 2013
(This feature was written by Ching Tung, Cal Olympic Sports Intern)
Once every four years, the world falls in love with diving, a spectator favorite at the Summer Olympics. But for Grayson Huston, California diving's team captain, his love affair with diving has been much more consistent.
"I love this sport," says the junior out of Carmel, Calif. "It sounds so corny, but I walked out of a really hard practice the other day, and all I could think is man, I love what I do every day."
It is perhaps this love of diving, mixed with a lot of persistence, hard work and a little help from diving coach Todd Mulzet, that has produced for Huston a sterling platform list in just two years at Cal. This list helped him reach his first ever final at the Zone E Qualifying Meet last week, where his 12-dive cumulative score helped him place 11th, his highest finish at the meet.
"When I first got here, I only had a one-meter and three-meter [springboard] list," said Huston, "and there were still a lot of kinks to work out."
Diving, like gymnastics, is scored by a panel of judges. To reach NCAAs, divers must achieve consistently high scores throughout their regular season. A qualifying standard must be reached in order for a student-athlete to be invited to zonal meets, where they compete with other divers in the region for a spot to the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships.
"In other words, you have to qualify to qualify," quipped Mulzet. "Zones is also a different beast all together, in that your score from prelims carry over to finals, so the only divers that make NCAAs have to be extremely consistent."
Huston's second zone meet started off with less than satisfactory results, as he failed to break into the 18-diver final rounds on the one-meter and three-meter competitions, placing 24th and 23rd respectively.
But all that changed on the last day of the meet, where Huston's preliminary round performance slotted him into ninth place after his first six dives, qualifying him for the smaller group of 12-diver finalists. His third dive during finals, a backwards two and a half somersault pike dive, was awarded the third-highest score by the judges in that round.
"There is something to be said about Grayson's courage and the way he has approached platform diving mentally," says Mulzet. "It's easy to assume that kids have plunged from that height for years and find it normal - it's not." Platform diving requires extreme concentration, skill, and a good dose of bravery. As arguably the most challenging event within the discipline, Huston's achievement is more impressive given his short diving history.
Many top diving programs around the country require potential student-athletes to have a full platform list at the time of recruitment.
Mulzet had a different plan for Huston.
"Grayson had never been trained as a student of the sport, so for him to come to this program meant that he was exposed quickly to a lot of the scholarly aspects of diving," says Mulzet."Grayson has this immense thirst for learning, and this quality has helped him improve leaps and bounds over his time here at Cal."
"I only started diving my junior year of high school," admitted Huston, who placed among the nation's top 20 platform divers in August, at the USA Diving Senior National Meet in Greensboro, N.C. "Moving on after a failed dive was perhaps the hardest thing for me my freshman year of college. But Todd taught me that there is nothing more important in diving than to move on from one mistake...the next dive might be my best of the meet."
Huston's track record might not be as star-studded as some of his swimming teammates, but there has been progress, with a impressive finish to his third season.
"I guess we really took a chance with each other," says Mulzet, whose first season with the Bears was also Huston's rookie term."Grayson has done a complete 180 in terms of his diving. He works hard, makes the changes that he needs to make, and has set an example for both his teammates and the coaching staff."
Mulzet had taken Huston and fellow junior Tyler Pullen to the University of Arizona over the summer to train at the Hillenbrand Aquatics Center.
"There were some days that I hurt so much that I couldn't breathe," joked Huston, but the Arizona trip was ultimately rewarding and proved to be a turning point for both divers and coach. The divers were able to utilize platform facilities every day, and the dividends paid off at a USA Diving qualification meet in Mission Viejo, Calif., where Huston and freshman Collin Pollard qualified successfully to compete in Greensboro.
"This program is first and foremost about humility," says Mulzet. "We're looking to create a legacy of excellent diving, but also a team with standards and high expectations."
Huston agrees with Mulzet in creating a standard of excellence.
"The thing I love most about Cal diving is the people," Huston says. "There are people who push me to work hard, both in the classroom and on the boards. The best advice that I have received from former Cal divers is to `Fake it 'till you make it'. Our strength and conditioning coach, Nick Folker, tells us to not look tired in between tough sets, because that transfers to our attitude and appearance in between dives at meets."
Cal diving finished its regular season with a program-high points scored at the Pac-12 Swimming and Diving Championships, where Pollard and sophomore Tommy Selby combined to help head coach Dave Durden's squad snap Stanford's 31-year conference title streak. Pollard placed sixth on the one-meter, seventh on three-meter, and fifth on the platform at the conference meet, and was selected as an alternate for Zone E qualifiers to the NCAA Championships. Mulzet finished his third year at the helm of Cal diving by bringing a program-high four men's qualifiers to the Zone E meet.