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Women's Aquatics: Making Waves


By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Jan 1, 2014 8:00 AM


Quah shows excellent form in the water.
Photo by David Black

Somersaulting Into Success

The diving team is much smaller than the swimming team, but Stebbins prefers it that way. “Once we get a little bit bigger than eight, that’s when I feel like I start to lose some ability to anticipate what their next need might be,” he says. “So six is a really good number.”

The team’s two seniors — Haley McNamara and Paulina Guzman — are both coming off severe injuries that occurred during freak accidents in practice. McNamara, the diving team’s captain, broke a bone and shredded three ligaments in her knee in May 2012 while attempting a normal approach, or “hurdle.” Eighteen months, three surgeries and a lot of rehab later, she has returned to the team and is working hard to regain her form.

“She has done nothing short of an amazing job of giving herself an opportunity to get back into the pool and to compete in her senior year,” Stebbins says.

Unbeknownst to her coach, however, McNamara had decided after the accident never to dive again. “Mentally, I was a mess,” she says. “I didn't let anyone know that, because I didn't want to let my team down.”

Just nine months after the injury, though, McNamara decided that she was ready to compete again. “I texted my best friend on the team, Paulina, and said, ‘You know, I really miss diving today. I feel like I could get back on the boards and do it,’ ” she says. “Tom always believed in me, but he just wanted to hear me admit that I was ready to come back.”

Stebbins — a graduate of Yale University (1996) and a former member of the Bulldog diving team — is in his 16th year as UCLA's head coach. Along with McNamara and Guzman, his team includes sophomores Montana Monahan and Maggie Denison (whose status at publication time was uncertain), and the two promising freshmen, Danni Repper and Annika Lenz.


Diver Montana Monahan looks like she’s flying.
Photo by David Black

He describes Lenz, a former gymnast whose three sisters also dive, as “a gametime kid.”

The versatile diver is equally comfortable on springboard or platform. “It’s pretty scary when you get up [on the 10-meter platform], but it’s a mentally challenging sport,” Lenz says. “It’s cool because not very many people do it. It’s really exciting when you get the dive off and you get it right.”

With McNamara and Guzman still recovering from their injuries, Stebbins downplays the importance of UCLA's No. 9 ranking in recruiting.

“All of that stuff is just potential, and potential is great, but it means absolutely nothing on Saturday. When the lights come on and you have to race or dive against the kid next to you, that’s your reality,” he says. “Even at No. 9 — I don’t think our goal is to be ninth in the country. That would be a nice step up from where we've been, but I think we have aspirations to do things at a higher level.”

Rising to the Top

The women of UCLA's swimming and diving team are extremely close-knit, which should benefit them when they travel to the NC AA Championship at the University of Minnesota in March. But no matter how they finish, it’s clear that they believe they are part of something very special.

“I love being around people who have such a passion for what they do and are committed to each other, to themselves and to their own improvement,” says senior captain Anna Senko, a mid-distance swimmer. “It’s a great environment that I feel so privileged to be a part of every day. We’re all very similar, but we’re also very different, and I’ve learned so much from everyone else on the team. Everyone brings something different, and how it all comes together is just really cool to see.”