INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The dance is the thing.
Standing up on the board just before one of her dives, USC’s sophomore diver Haley Ishimatsu scans the crowd to locate her older sister, Tory. Their eyes meet. And the dance begins. You’d have to look closely. But it’s there. Only a sister knows.
Tory begins to move her body from one side to the other in the stands. It’s not unusual to see Haley doing the same on the board.
“We’re kind of goofy,” Tory says.
“I don’t know. She dances or I dance,” Haley says.
“We both dance sometimes. But it’s only us two,” Tory says. “Some people, in the stands, they’re only watching her. They see her dancing and they’re wondering, ‘What the heck is she doing up there?’ “
Often, Haley Ishimatsu is winning. In her first season at USC after transferring from Duke one year ago, Haley won a Pac-12 Conference title in platform diving and then did the same at the NCAA Zone E Championships to qualify for this week’s NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships.
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At the Zone E Championships. Ishimatsu scored a perfect 10 with all seven judges, and totaled 729.85 combined preliminary and finals points. That performance offered a glimpse into a diving career that already has hit some very high spots. Ishimatsu was an Olympian at the age of 15 at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in both individual and synchronized 10-meter. Her first Olympic berth came just three years after she followed sister Tory from gymnastics to diving at a local club near their Seal Beach, Calif., home.
“It was a good experience. Especially at that age, it was very overwhelming. I wasn’t really able to truly take it in. It was really only after I got back that I realized, ‘Wow, it’s the Olympics,’” Haley Ishimatsu said.
Saturday, the 4-foot-11 Ishimatsu will be one of the top contenders in the women’s platform diving event. She missed qualifying for the finals in both the 1- and 3-meter events.
“It (platform) is her strongest event,” said USC diving coach Hongping Li, a two-time Olympic diver with China who was a bronze medalist at the 1986 FINA World Championships. “We are hoping that she just goes out and enjoy and do what she does.”
Haley’s quick success this year with the Lady Trojans follows in the impressive wake of her older sister, Victoria, who is more commonly known around family and USC as Tory. She was a five-time All-American at USC and won the NCAA 1-meter championship in 2012 as a senior. A seven-time Pac-10 and Pac-12 champion, Victoria Ishimatsu was named Pac-12 Diver of the Year all four years. Twice, she has been a contender at the U.S. Olympic Trials and thinking, she says, about trying to make the 2016 Olympics team.
But for now, she is a volunteer assistant diving coach for the Trojans. Li, a two-time U.S. Olympic Committee Diving Development Coach of the Year, suddenly has two Ishimatsu women on a team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation during the regular season.
“That’s been really tremendously helping my program and my coaching,” Li said of Tory Ishimatsu. “She has been playing a very positive role to build a bridge between myself and the athletes.”
In terms of little sister Haley, Tory is the dancer and the emotional pusher.
“I know her well enough when to push her, when to back off, or when to be goofy or weird. If she needs a laugh, I’m always there,” Tory Ishimatsu said.
“It’s really nice to be able to have someone that’s that close to you to be able to push you through all the hard spots. It keeps you on top of everything,” Haley said.
For Li, it is a total family package.
“They’ve been together, almost un-separated in many ways,” Li said. “Coaching them on the same team … it’s not a strange feeling at all. In many ways, they have each other, they push each other, particularly for Haley.”
Their bond as sisters was even why they chose to dive in the first place. When Tory decided to try diving as a young teen, Haley quickly followed.
“The reason I joined diving was because she was,” Haley said.