March 7, 2007
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Amanda Miller and Carlene Takaki were expected at NCAA's, but who could have predicted Emily Wetzel would also be making the trip to Minneapolis.
Not to take anything away from the Cincinnati-bred sophomore, but Wetzel didn't exactly make an impact the last time she was in Minnesota, competing at the Big Ten Championships. Wetzel's best finish was 11th off the 3-meter springboard with 275.80 points.
At the start of the NCAA Zone C Championships last weekend in Michigan, Wetzel again blended in with the pool of 45 divers, taking 10th on 3-meter and 25th on 1-meter.
But those two middle-of-the-pack showings quickly became ancient history when she accumulated 512.50 points off the 10-meter platform to finish third. Wetzel's finish earned her the eighth of nine Zone C allocations and a first-time trip to the national championships.
"Zones was the best meet of my life," said Wetzel. "It was cool to watch everything I've worked on all come together at the most important point of the season."
Wetzel is thrilled to have qualified for NCAA's. Not only does the meet get her out of class four days before the official start of Spring Break, but it also delays surgery for her subluxed shoulder and torn labrum.
Wetzel didn't hurt herself at Zones, she simply dove through the pain.
"The pain is there, but it's always there and it doesn't effect my execution," said Wetzel, who plans to go under the knife in another week. Expected recovery time is five months.
Miller has experienced her own aches and pains this season, but looks to be in tip-top shape for her final NCAA championship. She also appears to be a much stronger, confident competitor even without the services of longtime teammate Carrie McCambridge.
Miller eclipsed McCambridge at last year's NCAA's off the 3-meter and platform, in earning the first All-America citations of her career. But for Miller, success was never about defeating the two-time Big Ten Diver of the Year.
"Beating Carrie was never was never on my to-do list," said Miller. "The goal always has been to do my best."
Miller has certainly saved her best for this season. She won three Big Ten Diver of the Week certificates, set a new varsity record off the 1-meter with 332.33 points, and scored 49 points at the conference championship meets.
During the regular season, Miller won 16 springboard competitions with registered sweeps against six dual-meet opponents. She also was victorious off both springboards at the talent-heavy Ohio State Invitational.
Miller managed to accomplish all the above while trying to balance school life and two trips to the U.S. Diving selection camps.
The senior from Centreville, Va. admits the season's been tiring. But she's been calm, cool and collected when it's time to compete.
"I'm not nervous anymore and I don't look at the NCAAs as a huge, intimidating event," said Miller. "I've been comfortable at all the meets, and I think it's my running that's helped. On a good day, I'll run three miles after practice."
Takaki doesn't think too much about Boilermaker history. Therefore, it's unlikely to faze her to read that an individual Purdue swimmer hasn't scored at NCAA's since 2003 (Lindsay Lange), and that there hasn't been a butterfly All-American since Kim Fritsch in 1994.
The senior, however, has been around long enough to appreciate the divers' dominance at nationals.
"Our divers are phenomenal, they are a big part of this team, but I hate to see them carrying us all the time," said Takaki.
The San Jose native has had a good season despite not repeating as Big Ten Champion in the 200 fly, or top the personal bests she posted a year ago. Both of Takaki's best fly times this season were recorded at Big Tens, finishing with a 54.44 in the 100 and a 1:58.72 in the 200.
Her times, among the best in the nation, are even more impressive for a former walk-on.
Takaki arrived at Purdue four years ago with little to no financial support from the team, but in the time since then she has qualified for three national meets, recorded two varsity records, scored at the 2006 U.S. Open, and won a Big Ten title.
Her story is already making its way around the Boilermakers' recruiting trail.
"We not only talk about her to recruits as a source of inspiration, but to her current teammates," said head coach Cathy Wright-Eger. "The moral of her story is that hard work pays off. If you keep progressing and demonstrate patience then good things can happen."
Wright-Eger and Takaki both wants points out of this appearance. Just making it to NCAAs is no longer good enough.
Since returning from Big Ten's close to a month ago, Takaki has been increasing her yardage, working on turns and concentrating on faster kicks through her breakouts. And through all this training, she has received tremendous support from her family, friends and teammates, some of whom will be cheering her on from the stands of the Minnesota Aquatic Center.
"My teammates have been awesome," said Takaki. "They've been training with me lately as I've been tapering down. They're cheering me on and are supportive of my progress."
The NCAA Championships begin Thursday at 11 a.m. CST for prelims and 7 p.m. for finals. Divers Miller and Wetzel compete all three days (1-meter, 3-meter, platform), while Takaki swims Friday (100 fly) and Saturday (200 fly).
More information on the national championships can be found here.