Ignacio claims the ninth SEC-diving title for Kentucky and Diving Coach Mike Lyden. Ignacio's victory, coupled with teammate Jessica Thompson's win in Friday's three-meter event, marks the first time Kentucky has had multiple diving champions at the same conference meet.
Ignacio (pronounced ig-NA-see-oh), a Florida State transfer from Richmond's Model H.S., headed into the final in first place after a preliminary-round score of 273.30. Ignacio maintained her lead throughout the six-dive final for a final tally of 296.40, defeating her nearest competitor, Florida's Nicole Bolt, by over 16 points.
"What makes this so special for me is I started her diving at age 12," Lyden said. "To come from Florida State back to me and do what she did and watch her mature and grow up…it doesn't get much better than that. I couldn't be more proud of the girl.
"She had never actually won a (championship) meet in her life. She has always been second or third, and she has been to the world championship on tower (platform diving). But, that was the first time she was in a meet that truly mattered and won it the way she did doing every dive."
Despite her dominance throughout the event, Ignacio was not necessarily relishing her position, early on, as the top diver.
"After prelims, I was excited that I was in first, but I was kind of hoping that I would end up second because there's not as much pressure on you in the finals," Ignacio said.
"When I went into finals, I was a little nervous about keeping the top spot. I tried to relax and act like it was practice. I just listened to Mike (Lyden) and what he was telling me to do. I really didn't even act like it was a meet."
The victory is more rewarding for Ignacio now that she is competing for a school much closer to home.
"It's a great feeling to come back home to my age-group coach. I love Mike to death, and I thank him for taking me back because he didn't have to do it. It's a good feeling to be back home, and there are probably more people rooting for me because I am home."
The victory on the one-meter springboard is all the more gratifying for Ignacio, given her reputation as an exceptional platform diver.
"I didn't even expect this, because my best event is (platform) tower. I was hoping to win tower, but I am honored to win the one meter. People look at me as a tower diver, so it's great for me to win a springboard. It gives me more confidence for tomorrow."
Lyden feels his divers are reaping the rewards from their dedication throughout the season.
"It just shows that hard work pays off," Lyden said. "I probably have the greatest group of kids in the country as far as work ethic. They do whatever I say, and they don't give me any trouble. They make coaching easy. It's special because she earned it, and Jessica (Thompson) always has been a classy, hard-working girl. For both of them to win is pretty special."
Freshman Ben Starchuk also competed in a final for the Cats, taking eighth with a men's three-meter score of 516.80. Thompson and senior Mario Rodriguez finished just shy of qualifying for their event finals. Thompson placed ninth in the one meter with a score of 250.85, while Rodriguez finished ninth in the men's three-meter with a tally of 500.50. Sophomores Joey Brown and Jillian Becker added 12th and 14th-place finishes, respectively, in the women's one-meter event, and freshman Justin Montrie took 21st in the men's three meter.
The Kentucky women look to sweep the SEC Diving Championships with a victory in Sunday's platform event. Sophomore Kari Retrum took the title for Kentucky a season ago, but as a redshirt sitting out the championships due to an injury, she will be unable to defend her crown. Thompson took sixth a season ago, and Becker and Brown placed 11th and 12th in the event. Ignacio competed in the event at the 2004 NCAA Championships and the U.S. Olympic Trials. Rodriguez will look to build on his seventh-place finish from a season ago.