BOISE, Idaho-Boise State swimming and diving has soared to the top of the Western Athletic Conference, but it was not without humble beginnings. Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in the diving well.
"When we started this program, our diving coach was part time, and we've developed that into a full-time position," said head swimming and diving coach Kristin Hill. "Because of the way the program started, we poured everything in to swimming, but I always knew diving had to be a part of this."
After being part-time last year, head diving coach David Legler is now a full-time staff member and is ready to help the defending WAC Champions etch their names into the upper echelon of college swimming and diving programs.
"The diving program is starting a few years behind swimming, but it's definitely a team effort," Legler said. "Sometimes it is hard to keep everything in sync, but I think we do a good job of it whenever possible. We are a swimming and diving team, and everything we do we do it as one. The divers can contribute just as much as the swimmers."
Senior Tana Loan is the only current Bronco to compete under former volunteer diving coach C.J.Hardy. While other members of the team are grateful for Legler, Loan understands first-hand the difference a full-time coach makes.
"We get so much more time, and experience and hands-on coaching because it's David's job," said Loan. "We can have more than one practice a day. We can have them at regular times. If you want to come in extra, he is always willing to come in and help you. It has helped us grow a lot."
There was a lot of room to grow for many of the divers. Before freshman Ciera Cortney arrived on campus, none of the Broncos had a full year of competitive diving under their belts prior to joining the Boise State squad.
Redshirt junior Amanda Burnett and sophomore Lexi Pfeiffer had limited experience on a diving board before coming to Boise State. Burnett, formerly a Bronco gymnast, is only in her second season as a member of the swimming and diving team.
"I grew up in Phoenix, so I dove when I was little through the parks department," Burnett remembered. "Diving was like play time, because gymnastics was my sport. I never took it very seriously and was never good at it. I didn't really get into it-or even touch a three-meter board, let alone a platform-until my junior year of college."
Pfeiffer picked up diving after a string of injuries ended her gymnastics career. She recalls first climbing on a board in February of her senior year of high school. At the time of her injury she had been recruited by Boise State gymnastics head coach Neil Resnick. Not long after she took to diving, Hill showed interest in Pfeiffer continuing her new sport at the collegiate level.
"I started diving with a club team and somehow Kristin found me," Pfeiffer said. "I don't know how she knew about me, but when she gave me a chance I decided to come here."
Loan came to Boise State with even less diving experience.
"I started diving in March of my freshman year of college," she laughed.
Like Burnett and Pfeiffer, though, Loan had and extensive gymnastics background.
"I did gymnastics all my life, and had no intentions of doing any college sports," Loan said. "So, I got here my freshman year and I knew some of the divers and they suggested I give it a shot. The coaches were gung-ho about giving me a chance, so I took it."
Even Cortney, a four-time state diving champion in Nevada, got her start in gymnastics.
"I started diving a little before my freshman year of high school," the freshman said. "I had been a gymnast before then. My mom was the one that brought up the idea of diving. I didn't know anything about the sport. At first I was reluctant, I thought it was dumb. After I tried it, though, I really liked it."
While Cortney left gymnastics behind before her teammates, the experiences garnered on the different apparatuses were invaluable to her diving success. The basic principles of gymnastics translate to diving so well that some of them think it would be difficult to learn one without the other.
"I think it's impossible for anybody to pick up diving later in life unless you've done gymnastics," Loan said. "If you aren't a gymnast and you're trying to be a diver, it just doesn't work out."
Legler agrees having a gymnastics background can help a new diver, especially when it comes to the aerial disciplines and body control.
"So much of diving is about flipping and getting that air awareness," Legler said. "That's why gymnasts are able to transition to diving fairly well. They know how to flip, they know how to twist. Some of those fundamentals are already set. Then it's just a matter of getting them off the board and teaching them how to land on their head."
The women came to a consensus that the finishing position was one of the toughest habits to break.
"Landing on your feet isn't socially acceptable in diving," Pfeiffer said when asked about the biggest differences between the sports.
Still the sports offer an array of different required skills and disciplines.
"They are still two pretty different sports," Legler explains. "You both flip, but that's about the only similarity. Something like platform is going to be easier, just because it's a little more what they're used to with fast-twitch muscles. It's just kind of punch and go. With springboard you have to be patient and load the board, which is pretty different from gymnastics."
More different than gymnastics and diving, however, is diving and swimming. It is difficult for any of the divers to conjure up similarities between themselves and their more aquatic teammates.
"We share the same water," Legler joked.
"We swim to the side of the pool," Pfeiffer chimed in.
Pfeiffer went on to explain some of the distinctions, "Swimming is so much more physically tough, whereas diving is more mentally tough. Our practices look like fun, but they are a lot more mentally straining than physically most of the time."
Even when it comes down to the physical attributes needed for each sport, they are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
"The only thing that is the same with swimming and diving is that it is in water," Burnett said before getting into specifics. "Swimming is an aerobic sport, and ours is anaerobic. I love that we are together and I wouldn't have it any other way, but they are two completely different sports."
Though the sports do not always mesh, there is a mutual respect for one another. And Hill knows just how big of a role the divers will play in taking this program to the great heights she has envisioned from its outset.
"We are a swimming and diving team, and we are thankful that Boise State made it a swimming and diving program," Hill said. "If you want to compete at a high level, whether it is in your conference championship meet or at the NCAA Championships, you have to have strong diving. I've seen many meets won because of diving."
The divers contributed 14 points to the Broncos' conference title, with Burnett becoming the first Boise State diver to advance to the finals of an event when she took eighth on the platform. The 14 points, which included 11 from Burnett and 15th and 16th place finishes in the one-meter competition, was the highest total accumulated by Boise State divers.
"We started off with something to build on this year," Legler said. "The girls showed a lot of improvement last year, and it came out at the conference meet. Having seen the hard work pay off is going to help them make great strides. So, that's definitely a good indication of where things are going."
The women can sense it as well. They all spoke of being motivated by the swimmers' success and wanting to put in the effort it takes to be able to exceed their potential.
"All of us are working really hard right now, and it's only November," Burnett said. "I am really excited to see where we are at in February, it should be fun."
It is still November, though, and this weekend the divers travel to Tucson, Ariz., to compete in the Wildcat Diving Invitational. Eighteen schools will converge on the University of Arizona campus for a weekend of competition. The Broncos will take advantage of the facilities, but are also looking to seize the opportunity of diving alongside some of the sport's best and brightest. Legler does not want to wait until February to see the hard work pay off.
"I want the girls to be able to see they can be competitive," Legler said. "No matter who we are going up against, if they are consistent and compete like they have been training, then there is no limit. They can make finals, they can do everything they have set out to do."
That attitude is something Legler looks for in his prospective student-athletes. Regardless of the extent of their diving backgrounds, he knows the makeup of a diver is equally important.
"We mainly just look for motivation," Legler said. "Even if they are pretty new to the sport, how quickly have they progressed? Find out where their goals are and what their work ethic is like. Knowing where they are mentally and what they want to accomplish are really important. Someone who is willing to come in every day and work to get better is who we want."
The dedication was not lost on Cortney who sought a school and diving program where she knew she would improve.
"The diving team started out slow, but we're really progressing," Cortney said. "That's one of the things I really like about this place. To see how far Amanda had come in just a year of diving inspired me to work hard every practice. It also let me know that I can progress if I put in the effort."
Burnett shared one of the Broncos' secrets to success.
"We are all so determined to do whatever we can, and do what it takes to succeed even though we don't have the facilities," she said. "That's why we have made the strides we have. When we have opportunities we take them."
The next opportunity the Broncos will look to take advantage of is in Tucson. Getting to use a platform for competition and practice, as well as state-of-the-art training equipment not available to them on a regular basis, will bring them one step closer to becoming the team they know they can be.
The team that leads the Broncos to another conference championship.