On the Diving Board with USC's Champion Victoria Ishimatsu

By Brian Price

Fresh off of their win over #21 UCLA on February 12,  #3 USC women's swimming and diving now find themselves in the fast lane.

The victory over UCLA brought their regular season record to 9-2, their most wins since 1997, matching the USC squad that captured the only women's swimming and diving national championship to date for the women of Troy.

"That's definitely something to keep in mind," said Victoria "Tory" Ishimatsu, USC's three-time All-American junior diver. "As we continue into the Pac-10 [Championships] we want to keep the wins coming. We expect, with the way that this team is made up, that we're going to win the national championship."

The win over the Lady Bruins, while historically significant, was also crucial in breaking a tough losing streak. A loss to UCLA would have meant three in row (the Trojans had previously lost to #4 CAL and #1 Stanford) and a lack of momentum heading into the Pac-10 Championships.

It's also important to note this Trojan team's ability to adapt to changing circumstances. According to Ishimatsu, the UCLA dual meet was in a platform format, which is rare in dual meet competitions. All of the Trojan's previous dual meets had been off of the springboard.

Now the Trojans are cruising, in large part due to the strong and consistent performance of Ishimatsu.

Ishimatsu has become synonymous with reliability throughout her time at USC. However, the Seal Beach, Calif., native notes that a turning point in her career, or a certain "Aha!" moment, as she puts it, was instrumental in building her confidence heading into the current season

As a freshman in the 2009 Pac-10 Championship, Ishimatsu, found herself behind in points entering her final dive in the 3-meter competition.

"The girl before me hit her dive for 9 out of 10 points. I didn't expect her to do that well because she was mainly a platform diver," Ishimatsu said. "I calculated it all really fast and realized I needed 8's on the dive and I had never hit this particular dive for 8's in my life. When I hit the water I didn't know how well I did, but I knew I gave it my best and I looked at Michela [Fossati-Bellani], my other teammate [and she gave me a thumbs up] and I had hit the dive for 8.5's."

For Ishimatsu, winning the event on her last dive gave her the confidence to know that she could come through, especially when the pressure was on.

"Every since then it's been like an awakening," she said. "There's more pep in my step. From that point on I knew I could do it."

Since then, Ishimatsu has become a three-time Pac-10 champion (twice in the 3-meter and once in the 1-meter) and has been named Pac-10 diver of the year for two years running.

She recently travelled to Iowa City, Iowa, to compete in the 2011 U.S. Winter National Diving Championships, where she placed 5th on the 1-meter with 273.90 points (the overall winner, Maren Taylor, won by a margin of only .45). Additionally, Ishimatsu plans to enter the Olympic trials in a bid to qualify for the 2012 London games. Her sister, Haley, won a silver medal in the 2008 Beijing games.

While accomplishments always boost confidence, mastering the art of diving, according to Ishimatsu, requires vigorous mental preparation.

"[Diving] is 90% mental and 10% physical, although there is a high level of fitness required for the physical aspect. It's all pretty mental," Ishimatsu said. "It's almost scary how much thinking goes into a single dive."

It's easy to get distracted standing 10 meters, or 33 feet above the water, but Ishimatsu has trained herself to block out distractions.

"My mentality is always in the moment," she said. "A former coach of mine always told me 'Stay in the present.'  If you let your mind wander when you're up on 10-meters, it's hard to get your head back to where it should be."

She has developed her own visualization technique. And it's working.

"Some people call it modeling, others call it a run through, but it's when you're on the ground and go through the motions of your dive," she said. "For me, I go up the stairs to the platform and when I get to 7-meters, which is the platform right before 10-meters, I'll stand there and go through the modeling motions. I'll mentally prepare myself, visualize the dive, take a few breaths, go up to the 10-meters, model my dive once more, go over a few corrections and I know I'm ready. I walk to the platform and off I fly."

USC's head diving coach Hongping Li supports her with the big picture as well as the most minute aspects of technique and mental preparedness.

"He's very understanding with all situations and is extremely detail-oriented when it comes to diving," said Ishimatsu. "That's what's needed when coaching [athletes] who are in the top 1% of diving. Some coaches specialize in platform, and others in springboard, but he's an expert on both. He'll get on you if he needs to, but he knows divers will push one another. We hold each other accountable."

Of the top-10 teams in the nation, four of them - USC, Arizona, Stanford and Cal - all represent the Pac-10. Whoever emerges victorious from the upcoming Pac-10 Championship will be an odds-on favorite to win the national crown.

The Pac-10 Championship is set to get underway starting February 23 in Federal Way, Wash.

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