Idelson and Chong dive into steep competition at NCAA Qualifier

Senior Aaron Idelson performs a pike dive at Wheaton College on Jan. 21, 2017. Courtesy Dave DeCortin

This weekend, first-year Amber Chong and senior Aaron Idelson competed for Tufts at the NCAA Zone Diving Qualifier at Middlebury College. Both athletes performed 11-dive routines at both the one-meter height — held on Friday for the men and Saturday for the women — and the three-meter height (Saturday for the men and Friday for the women). The top nine women and seven men at both heights qualified for the NCAA Championship in Indianapolis on March 21–24.

After the three-meter event on Friday, Chong was ranked 22nd out of the 25 competitors, with a score of 322.10. She responded with a stronger performance the following day, recording a score of 365.65 to place 20th in the one-meter competition.

MIT dominated the women’s competition, taking first place with 108 points, which outpaced second-place Amherst College by a whopping 64 points. MIT sophomore Blake Zhou took home the one-meter championship with a score of 440.50, while her teammates — first-year Deborah Wen and junior Dolly Payne — clinched third and fourth. Wen won the three-meter competition with an impressive 458.25 points. Zhou took fifth in the three-meter event, and MIT junior Morgan Matranga took eighth at both heights, meaning the Engineers will take four athletes to Nationals on the women’s side.

Going into the meet, Chong realized the competition would be stiff.

“I didn’t have too many expectations for this meet,” Chong said. “I knew I’d be diving against the best girls in the region.”

The Issaquah, Wash. native performed the same 11-dive routines that she used at the NESCAC Championships two weeks prior, but thought her execution was less solid this time around.

“At the one-meter height, I didn’t hit all the dives that I normally do,” she said.

Although the performance might not have been all that she was hoping for, diving against the top athletes in the region left Chong hungry for improvement.

“I did want to make Nationals, but overall, it was a really good experience. Now I know what I have to do to make Nationals in the future, so I’ll start working on bigger dives,” she said.

Tufts diving coach Brad Snodgrass recognizes Chong’s potential.

“This is only her first year competing on the college level,” Snodgrass said. “She’s new to everything, so I had no expectations for her at this meet. Her three-meter was shaky, probably due to nerves on the first day of such a big competition. She was much more competitive on the second day. We have a lot of work to do over the next year, but she’s so talented — I can see her qualifying for Nationals as a sophomore.”

On Friday, Idelson placed 15th in a field of 21 divers in the one-meter competition with a score of 386.55. The next day, he improved his score by 39.6 points to take 11th place at the three-meter height with a 426.15 mark. NYU senior Connor Brisson won the one-meter competition with 510.00 points and also took second place in the three-meter event behind Union College senior Sam Hoyt, who placed first with 544.45 points. Hoyt led his team to an overall victory at the meet, as the Dutchmen garnered 83 total points.

Following the NESCAC Championship, where he placed seventh in the one-meter competition and fourth in the three-meter event (contributing 49 total points to the Jumbos’ first-ever NESCAC title), Idelson had shorter but higher-intensity practices. During the week leading up to the NCAA Qualifier, Snodgrass tried to simulate competition by having his divers do “one each” from the list of eleven dives. The repetition paid off for Idelson.

“My inward two-and-a-half has been pretty iffy for a year and a half, but I think it was my best dive this weekend,” he said. “It was awesome to be able to nail it in a competition setting.”

Snodgrass was very pleased with Idelson’s performance at the meet.

“He came pretty close to the top seven his sophomore and junior year, and I knew he was competitive to reach it this year,” Snodgrass said. “He was actually ranked in the top seven halfway through the three-meter competition on Saturday, but he missed his reverse two-and-a-half tuck — one of his harder dives — at the end. It’s really tough to nail all 11 dives, especially during a grueling two-day meet. He did his best and felt great about it, and that’s all that we can expect from ourselves. At the end, he was smiling, I gave him a big hug, and he couldn’t have been happier.”

As Idelson is a senior, this meet closed out his competitive diving career.

“Knowing it’s over feels weird, surreal,” he said. “I’m still riding the high from [winning the NESCAC championship] last week. Everything ended in such a happy way.”