Triple Crown: Ignacio takes SEC Sweep

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Kentucky sophomore diver Taryn Ignacio assumed a preliminary-round lead and never let up in the finals of the women's platform-diving event, completing an historic day for the Kentucky women's diving program Sunday at the Southeastern Conference Diving Championships in Florida's O'Connell Center Natatorium.

Ignacio's easy platform victory Sunday, along with her one-meter title Saturday and junior Jessica Thompson's three-meter title Friday, gives Kentucky its first sweep of the conference diving championships in program's history. Kentucky is only the second SEC school to complete the trifecta. LSU swept all three events in 1991 under current UK Diving Coach Mike Lyden. Kentucky now owns 10 SEC individual-diving titles under Lyden's direction.

Ignacio, a Florida State transfer and product of Model High School in Richmond, Ky., becomes the first Wildcat diver to win multiple conference titles in a single meet and is the first member of the Kentucky swimming and diving program to win more than one conference title at an SEC meet since former All-American and U.S. Olympian Rachel Komisarz captured the 500 and 1650-freestyle events at the 1999 SEC Championships. In just her first year at Kentucky, Ignacio becomes the first UK women's diver to own two conference titles.

"It feels great," Ignacio said. "Winning yesterday gave me more confidence today. I was more prepared today to go in and be more focused. I didn't feel any pressure. I just knew I had to do what I knew how to do."

Ignacio was on top of her game from the beginning of the morning preliminaries. Her preliminary-round score of 443.75 placed her over 50 points on top of her nearest competitor, Georgia's Emily Hunter. UK junior Jessica Thompson (Matthews, N.C.), Friday's three-meter champion, took third in the preliminary round, and sophomore Joey Brown (Laguna Niguel, Calif.) followed closely behind in fourth place, while sophomore Jillian Becker (Bowling Green, Ky.) took 13th place.

Ignacio never let up in the afternoon finals, leading from start-to-finish for a final score of 443.80, defeating the runner-up, Alabama's Jenna Hastreiter, by over 40 points. Thompson and Brown slipped to fifth and eighth, respectively, but all three Kentucky divers in the final contributed points to Kentucky's overall team tally. Kentucky will open with an early lead when the SEC Swimming Championships begin Wednesday in Gainesville.

Ignacio cites a total team effort in Kentucky's success this weekend.

"I think we did a great job. We worked really hard this year, and I think we deserved this. With as much work and time and effort we've put into everything this season, it shows."

Lyden felt good about his team's chances of winning its third event in as many days but ensured a precautionary tone going into the final event.

"I knew coming into the last day that everybody gets fatigued," Lyden said. "I was just keeping my fingers crossed that our energy level would be there. We got here at 6:45 this morning to warm up because we didn't want to get distracted by a million people on the platform. Then, the girls just dove incredibly in prelims. Taryn was awesome, Jessica was awesome, and Joey was off-the-charts for where she's at in her diving on platform. In the finals, Taryn was a professional. She went to business right away. She had one bad dive and came right back and hit the rest of them. She performed like a champion. She didn't lose her composure. I know she was fatigued, but she didn't let that stop her. It's a pretty special day."

Ignacio's win also marks the first time Kentucky has successfully defended a conference title since former All-American Clayton Moss captured the one-meter diving titles in 2001 and 2002. Sophomore Kari Retrum (Noblesville, Ind.), who is red-shirting this season due to an injury, won the SEC women's platform event a season ago at Georgia. Lyden is happy to keep the platform title in Lexington but is not lost in the Cats' success on the platform.

"That's really good to keep it, but I'm not all about titles. I'm about my kids doing the best they can do. If they win along the way, that's really special in itself. It was neat to do it, because Kari did it last year, and the exciting thing is we'll have her back next year. So, ‘watch out,' is all I can say."

Lyden understands the significance of sweeping all three women's diving events this weekend.

"I look at all of the people in our conference and see the best coaches in the country. A number of us know we have kids good enough to win them all, and when it all falls into place, it just makes for a most special weekend."

Despite the tremendously successful weekend, Lyden knows there still is work to be done at the upcoming NCAA zone diving meet.

"It's a good stepping stone, but the biggest meet for us is getting our kids to nationals. We can't do that no matter how well we dive here. We've got to step it up in three-and-a-half weeks at our (NCAA) zone meet at Georgia Tech. If we can get two or three men and women at that meet to the national meet, then we can do it on the biggest stage. The season is more than just the conference meet, but this is a good way to start the serious meets."

Freshman Ben Starchuk (Sherwood Park, Alberta) and senior Mario Rodriguez (Mexico City, Mexico) qualified for the finals of the men's platform event after fourth and sixth-place showings, respectively, in the preliminary round. Starchuk slipped to seventh place in the final, while Rodriguez remained in sixth overall.

"Mario and Ben were great to get into the finals," Lyden said. "To make the finals, given how tough our conference is, was great. With Ben being a freshman, his prelims were off the charts for a while. He proved to himself that he can dive with the best. He hopefully will get there this year, but I guarantee in the next couple of years he's going to make a name for himself. Mario's work paid off. That was a big goal of his, to make a couple of finals. I think we see the big picture."

The Kentucky divers return to action on Mar. 10 at the NCAA Zone Diving Meet in Atlanta. The UK men's and women's swimmers begin competition at the SEC Swimming Championships Wednesday in Gainesville.

SEC Diving Championships – Gainesville, Fla.

Women's Platform – Kentucky Finishers
Taryn Ignacio – 443.80
Jessica Thompson – 370.85
Joey Brown – 319.90
Jillian Becker – 292.80

Men's Platform – Kentucky Finishers
Mario Rodriguez – 445.20
Ben Starchuk – 430.65
Justin Montrie – 337.25

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