BY JOHN WYATT – SPORTS SECTION EDITOR
Both Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving at Centre College earned tremendous success as of late — both at an individual and team level.
The men recently earned 2nd place overall at the Southern Atlantic Athletic (SAA) Conference Championships, while the women earned the 3rd spot overall.
One individual who made waves at the conference championships was first-year Sarah Hayhurst. At the championships, she won “Female Diver of the Year,” a rare feat for a first-year diver, after taking first in both the Women’s 1m board and 3m board, scoring 433 points total.
Her performance at the championships built onto her regular season accomplishments of winning nine different diving competitions and earning SAA Diver of the week three times. These accomplishments earned Hayhurst the right to compete the NCAA Diving Regionals in San Antonio.
At Regionals, Hayhurst ended up securing first place overall in the Women’s 1m board, marking her tenth victory overall in the 1m board. Hayhurst also finished fourth in the 3m board, earning her All-American honors and making her the first female diver to do so since Centre Athletics Hall of Famer Diane Skellinger accomplished the feat in 1987. Her performance automatically earned her a qualifying bid into the NCAA Finals.
At Finals, Hayhurst put on an impressive performance and placed seventeenth overall in the 1m competition.
Hayhurst’s All-American season as a first-year in college comes after a long high school career with diving.
“I started diving my freshmen year in high school and stuck with it all four years,” Hayhurst said. “A few of my friends just came up to me one day and were like ‘Hey you should join the swim team!’ and so I just said “Why not?!’”
Prior to diving, Hayhurst was a gymnast which helped ease the transition into diving.
“A lot of diving and gymnastics comes down to body awareness, so choosing to pick up diving was a pretty easy choice,” Hayhurst said. “However, one big challenge was learning to land on my head in divining, which would be a disaster in gymnastics. It took me a few months to learn the complete opposite of that.”
Even though Hayhurst put together an incredible season for a first-year, she experienced the same nerves everyone does entering their first year at college.
“Coming in I was incredibly nervous,” Hayhurst said. “I came in knowing how good everyone was going to be and how challenging practice was going to be, so that’s what pushed me to train as hard as I could and try to impress my teammates.”
On top of first-year nerves, training and practicing at a collegiate level was another huge adjustment for Hayhurst, who soon realized the long (and early) hours that come along with Centre Swimming and Diving.
“That was definitely a difficult adjustment,” Hayhurst said. “In high school you kind of just did your own thing in practice, but here there was a set training program and we had our own diving coach.”
While many athletes listen to music in between events to pump them up and get them in the zone, Hayhurts’ event ritual is slightly different.
“It probably sounds a bit nerdy, but in between dives I read a book so that I’m not focusing and stressing over the meet,” Hayhurst said. “Meets are several hours long and it’s hard to stay in the zone for that long, so having something to get my mind off the events and stay relaxed really helps.”
Reflecting on her experiences at nationals, Hayhurst recognizes the significance of her accomplishments and what it means for her and her team.
“Before Conference, I wasn’t really that confident in myself and had some trouble dealing with pressure, but afterwards I just had this huge surge of confidence in myself which really helped me going in to nationals. Plus, it was a huge honor to bring home these awards not just for myself but for my team and the rest of Centre.”
It is this connection with her teammates and coaches that Hayhurst credits for a lot of her success.
“The team and coaches here have been nothing but supportive and encouraging for me. During Nationals they all sent me texts and called me to wish me luck.”
Her coaches reciprocate this shared bond.
“Sarah has been amazing to coach!” head coach Dean Brownley said. “Our diving coach, Woody Franklin, started coaching her this fall and changed a lot of things that she had been doing since she began high school. That takes a tremendous amount of trust in your coach to change everything that you know and are comfortable with.”
Hayhurst also credits her old high school coach, whom she still stays in touch with and trains with when she is back home.
And of course, Hayhurst’s parents also played an influential role in her diving career.
“When I first started diving they were a little unsure about it,” Hayhurst said. “We had to drive 45 minutes to a nearby college since our high school didn’t have their own pool. But once I told them I was committed they jumped on board and were 100% supportive of me.”
While Hayhurst personally set a high bar of success for herand the rest of the diving team to attain, her accomplishments already benefit the program.
“Her success has helped us land one other girl recruit and possibly another. She has brought us a lot of exposure with her success,” Brownley said.
Hayhurst’s success and accomplishments this season is a sign of the continued and improving success of Centre’s Swimming and Diving teams, and the Centre community can expect plenty more excitement in the years to come.