Dartmouth head diving coach Chris Hamilton has been quite successful in his 12 years at Dartmouth. He's had 23 divers qualify for the NCAA Zone Championships and he's placed 24 divers on the Academic All-America honorable mention squad. Hamilton coached Erica Serpico (Moorestown, N.J.) to the Ivy League title on the 1-meter in 2010, becoming Dartmouth's first Ivy League champion in any event since 1999. This season Hamilton's divers have put a whole new spin on success and already he's had six divers qualify for the NCAA Zone meet, including four females, the largest contingent of female divers in his 12 years.
"I think there are many different contributions that have made this team successful this year," said head diving coach Chris Hamilton. "First, they are all very good friends but also very competitive with each other. They enjoy diving with one another, but they also want to beat each other during meets. They also want to beat everyone on the other team also. It is exciting when you have athletes competing every day wanting to get better. Secondly, they are all healthy. Kendall is coming back from mono; Madison is finally back from foot surgery two years ago. Additionally, Erica is finally diving more this term now that she is not taking four classes, and Katy is coming off a great freshman year and looking to build on last years success."
Hamilton also credits the support that each of the divers has amongst each other. If you spend any time with this group, you can tell that they really do support each other from top to bottom.
"This is the largest team I have had in the twelve years here at Dartmouth," said Hamilton. "You have the men's team with the two freshman divers Ryan Shelley, Ethan Canty who have been successful at the Junior Olympic and AAU level and then you have Chris Plante and Ben Weill who have both been NCAA zone qualifiers and know what it takes to get there. We also have Megan Kratky, Kate O'Brien and Fiona Weeks who push the other female divers everyday in practice.
The divers are a part of the resurgence of the Dartmouth swimming and diving programs. This season, the Big Green divers have finished 1-2-3 or 2-3-4 in four of its five meets. The group had one of its best performances against Brown and was led by a group of underclassmen. Rookie Ryan Shelley (Sudbury, Mass.) claimed both the 1-meter and 3-meter titles against the Bears for the men while Kendall MacRae (Sherborn, Mass.) claimed the 3-meter title and teammate Katy Feng (Westfield, Mass.) took the 1-meter board for the women. In all, two freshmen and a sophomore dominated the competition against Brown. The Big Green underclassmen have been an important piece of Dartmouth's success as four of the six divers who have qualified for the zone meet are underclassmen.
Don't be confused; the Dartmouth upperclassmen have been performing well also. Serpico, Dartmouth's school record holder on the 3-meter board, has competed well after sitting out last season. In four of Dartmouth's meets she has finished in the top 2 and most recently she took both the 1-meter and three-meter titles against Princeton. In fact, Serpico has earned first place honors in each of Dartmouth's last three dual meets against New Hampshire, Vermont and Princeton on the 1-meter board. Additionally, junior Madison McClenney (The Woodland, Texas) has also performed quite well this season. McClenney sports four top five finishes and had her best meet of the season against New Hampshire where she took the 3-meter title and was third on the 1-meter board.
Hamilton attributes several things to the Big Green divers success and its starts with the success of the entire Dartmouth swimming and diving program.
"We have a swimming and diving program that is going in the right direction the past few years," said Hamilton. "It is much easier to recruit top level divers to Dartmouth when your whole program is going in the right direction. A few years ago it was difficult to go up against the Princeton's and Harvard's and Yale's recruiting wise. Now, I am getting divers to come here over those schools. It is exciting not only are the divers competing, but so am I against other coaches and we are starting to win some of those battles."
The divers have changed a little bit of its training and practice schedules a bit this year and that has also helped.
"One of the biggest changes is we have Darren Mustin as our strength and conditioning coach and the kids love having him. He works with them twice a week and you can see that they are getting stronger each week. We have also changed our practice time this year more to work around the divers academic schedule. I think the divers enjoy it and it helps them out with studying and other things they have outside of diving. It also allows them to get more diving in less time with less divers at each practice."
Not only has Hamilton changed a few things from a coaching standpoint, but also the divers are making some choices on their own that are benefitting them throughout the season.
"I also think the divers are realizing they need to be lifting, running or spinning and staying in shape all year round not just during the season and they are coming into the season in much better shape then in the past," said Hamilton. "They understand if they want to be successful they need to work hard. The more they put in the more they get out of it. I have had one or two divers each year who understand what it takes to be at the top of the Ivy League but now I have four women on one team that understand it and are doing it together."
As the Dartmouth swimming and diving programs get better, you can expect to see the Big Green divers improving as well. Hamilton has some long-term goals for this group, which reflect their dedication to improvement.
The long term for the next two years is to hopefully stay healthy and also get a high degree of difficulty on both the one meter and three meter boards," said Hamilton. "We have to get better each practice and this group of 11 divers understand this and are very committed to getting better each day. I also want to surround this group with not only better divers, but better people each year and we're well on our way to do that."
The Big Green divers are looking to keep the momentum up heading into championship season. The Ivy League women's championship takes place Feb. 23-25 while the men's championship is March 1-3. The Big Green is looking for its first Ivy League Champion on the men's side while the women are looking for its first title since Serpico's 1-meter title in 2010. The Dartmouth divers are also looking for their first trip to the NCAA Championships since Mike Brown competed in 1970.
Hamilton probably describes it best when it comes to the success of the divers this season.
"What is fun to watch is how they are bringing the other divers along and they are working just as hard! Now, we have to just finish what we have started both at Ivy Championships and NCAA Zones."