AUSTIN, Texas – For diver Michael Hixon, home cooking extends beyond local barbeque and juke joints.
Hixon, a freshman for Texas, won the one-meter springboard event Thursday during the first round of competition in the 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships. His triumph was the first of the meet for the Longhorns, who are hosting the three-day meet in their Lee and Joe Jamail Swimming Center.
Executing in his home diving well couldn’t have been sweeter for Hixon, who won his first NCAA title before a raucous assembly of Texas fans and those supporting other teams.“That crowd was unbelievable,” he said. “That means a lot."
Hixon’s accomplishment meant a lot. He beat event favorites and perennial All-Americans Kristian Ipsen of Stanford and Nick McCrory of Duke. Both Ipesen, a junior, and McCrory, a senior, were 2012 U.S. Olympians and bronze medalists in London. Thursday, in Austin, Ipsen, the defending event champion, finished second while McCrory finished third.
But Hixson’s victory – worth 20 points – combined with teammate Cory Bowersox’s fifth-place finish and 14 points to help propel the Longhorns into the lead after Thursday’s six scored finals.
“The divers did a great job,” said longtime Texas head coach Eddie Reese, now in his 36th season. “They put us up there. They were real good.”
Heading to Saturday, Texas (146 points) led second-place Cal (145) by one point.
“We’re kind of the workhorse,” Reese said. “We may not win anything but diving, which we’ve already done. But we just keep struggling along.”
“I meet my expectations for [Thursday],” Hixon said of the one-meter victory. “My goal is to win a NCAA championship.”
Hixon said he usually tries to keep up with the standings as he dives each round, but chose not to Thursday night, knowing the caliber of competition.
“[Thursday] I sort of let it go a little bit,” he said of Ipsen and McCrory. “When you’re diving against those two guys, you just sort of know.”
“I just tried to put six dives together the best I could,” he said.
Reese thought Hixon, from Amherst, Mass., did better than that.
“About twice a week, I go pretend to coach him,” Reese said. “But I don’t mess with him.”
Hixon is coming off a strong performance at the Big 12 championship, where he was named Diver of the Meet. He also has clear Olympic aspirations for 2016, having made the USA Diving World Team in 2013. On that squad, he competed in the FINA Swimming World Championships last summer in Barcelona, Spain, teaming with four-time Olympian Troy Dumais to finish fifth in men’s 3-meter synchronized springboard event.
Hixon also competed in the USA Diving Winter National Championships, which Texas hosted last December. That familiarity didn’t hurt when Hixon had to nail each one-meter dive Thursday.
“I think that sort of came in key [Thursday],” he admitted.
And, Thursday’s event title may be only his first of these 2014 NCAA championships. Friday’s three-meter springboard and Saturday’s platform events are in his sights.
“It’s sort of the same story,” Hixon said. “I’m still the underdog. I’m just going to go out there and hit six dives again.”
“Michael Hixon is a type of a guy, that if we have to have to something to win or to get back in the meet, he’ll do it,” Reese said. “There’s not many like that.”