Morgan Hansen's diving season has been a little like a diving board after the diver takes a leap -- it bounces up and down as the force and energy exerted by the diver dissipates.
"It's been off and on," said the Kenai Central High School senior. "I'll have good meets and bad meets."
While many athletes would be satisfied with a season that had more ups than downs, Hansen is challenging herself to see just how close to perfection she can come.
Hansen is in her fourth season diving for the Kardinals, and while she hasn't posted the scores this year in an 11-dive meet that placed her fourth (351.35 points) at last season's state championships, she is fine-tuning her dives for the Region III meet, coming up Nov. 3 and 4 in Palmer.
Hansen has placed first in two big meets this season -- the Bartlett-Chugiak Invitational with a 343.35 earlier this month and at the Homer Invitational with a 346.60 in September. Her six-dive total of 211.60 is the top mark on the peninsula this season.
"I'm slowly perfecting my dives," Hansen said. "I'm trying to learn a couple of new dives. It gets frustrating when you can't do them."
The dive giving Hansen fits right now is her back one and one-half, something she's just added to her repertoire.
In the pool
Finished fourth in the state in diving last season.
Won both the Bartlett-Chugiak Invitational and the Homer Invitational this year.
In the classroom
Carries an A average.
Wants to study sports medicine in college.
"I just learned it," Hansen said. "It's really hard to feel where you're at."
Hansen lists an inward one and one-half as one of her best dives, though.
"You start at the end of the board," Hansen explained, "and you take off and flip inward. It's a scary dive. You get some jitters in your stomach for that one."
Overcoming those jitters is something Hansen still does before every dive, even in her fourth year of competition.
"My reverse double -- I just nailed that one. It's not scary any more so I like doing it," Hansen said. "There's always nerves to get over. Every meet I'm nervous, but as you go through the meet and talk to the other divers, you start to have more fun."
Hansen uses those nerves as a tool pushing herself to do better.
"The fear makes you drive yourself more," Hansen said. "You've just gotta want to do it. It's a really hard sport. There's a lot of things you have to know.
"Will (Hubler, Kenai's coach) tells us that it's more mental than physical all the time -- but he's always changing the numbers. I think last time, he said it was 70 percent mental and 30 percent physical."
Hansen said that getting in the right frame of mind makes a good dive possible -- or impossible -- even before the diver steps onto the board.
"You go over your dive so many times that it's perfect in your mind," Hansen said. "If it's perfect in your mind, you have the potential to do it perfect on the board."
Hansen's coaches have been impressed with her preparation, both mental and physical.
"To see the maturity in herself and in her approach to diving has been wonderful to watch," said Kenai coach Eleanor Thomson. "She's very confident this year. That's an important part for their senior year -- to have that confidence. It's always good to see. She knows what she has to do to achieve a good placement in regions and state."
Hansen also strives for perfection in the classroom, though she does experience some jitters there as well.
"I stress so much for tests," Hansen said. "I study so hard. I try to be an overachiever. I want good grades -- if I don't get good grades, I'm not happy. And if I'm stressed for a test, I'm stressed for diving."
Hansen has been able to perform under the pressure, though. She is an A student, and she got most of her required courses out of the way before her senior year, giving her the chance to take some less stressful electives.
Hansen is paring down her list of colleges for next fall, looking for schools with a good sports medicine program and a diving team where she could compete.
"I always wanted to do something in medicine, but I'd watch them cut people open on those medical shows on TV and I'd get nauseous," Hansen said, explaining her desire to study physical therapy. "I'd like to work with athletes. That's my thing. I can relate with them."
Hansen has a part-time job at Ultimate Tan, but devotes most of her extracurricular time to diving.
"I want to focus on one thing, so I can do well," Hansen said.
Hansen first tapped her athletic talents with seven years of gymnastics at Polar Gymnastics Academy. She said she had a friend, Kaci Janson, who had used her gymnastic ability on the diving board, and let Hubler talk her into giving it a try.
"I love flipping," Hansen said. "I did cheerleading just because I wanted to tumble, but it started to conflict with my diving -- that's my sport."
Adding the extra half-flip to enter the water head first still takes some getting used to -- Hansen's gymnastic instincts tell her she should be trying to land on her feet.
But whether she's tumbling on a mat or a meter above the pool, Hansen said she has a good understanding of her body in motion.
"From gymnastics, I have a sense that I know where I'm at," Hansen said. "It is much harder when water is involved."
"She's a wonderful girl to work with," Thomson said. "Her knowledge of what she has to do because of her gymnastics background has made coaching diving easier on us."
Hansen will continue to fine-tune her dives over the next two weeks. She practices with teammate Rachel Knowles, and with Hubler watching, the trio works together to break down dives from a variety of angles.
"We push each other -- if Rachel does a good job on a dive, then I want to do that good," Hansen said. "We coach each other, too. We stand at different points. I can see things she's doing that Will might not, and when I'm telling her things, I'm teaching myself."
The Region III meet promises to be exciting -- in addition to Hansen and Knowles, Soldotna's Erin Orth and Palmer's Richelle Knapp will be in the mix. All four competed in the state meet last season.
"I've just gotta get the guts to throw the dives I've been working on," Hansen said. "It's going to be a great region meet."
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