MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Georgia women’s swim and dive team missed its Monday flight to Minneapolis, senior diver Laura Ryan lost her opportunity to spend some time at her family home in nearby Elk River, Minn.
Her titles in the 1-meter springboard on Thursday and the 3-meter springboard on Friday were the first NCAA diving championships in Georgia’s rich history. Those results, in addition to her third-place finish on the platform Saturday, helped the Lady Bulldogs defend their team title in dominant fashion.
“I knew that I had a great year coming into this meet, but to end like this, this is like a fairy tale for me,” Ryan said, the diver of the meet, still wearing her brand new and sopping wet national championship hat and tee shirt after the team took a celebratory swim in the diving well. “I’ve worked so hard all year coming back from knee surgery, so I couldn’t ask for a better ending to my collegiate career.”
Ryan’s diving career has been a test in adversity.
In high school, a torn labrum knocked her out for a year just after she claimed a Minnesota state championship.
Later, in 2012, Ryan decided to leave Indiana, where she was a Big Ten Conference diving champion, and transfer to Georgia. Then, after one season in Athens, Ga., Ryan suffered a broken kneecap. A July surgery kept her out of action until November, and it wasn’t until the Southeastern Conference championships last month that she said she finally felt back to 100 percent.
“It was definitely scary not knowing if I was going to be able to come back and have my best season as a senior, which obviously is everyone’s dream,” she said. “But I had amazing teammates and coaches behind me every single day pushing me to get back, so I knew I could do it with everyone helping me.”
She might not be giving herself enough credit, according to Georgia senior associate head coach Harvey Humphries.
“She’s the same kind of person [where] it’s all about the team, it’s all about everybody but her,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a diver come in, in my 30 years of coaching, that works harder than Laura Ryan at trying to be the best she can be every day.”
The results of that showed this weekend at an aquatic center she knows well.
“I started jumping off the boards in Elk River, but this is where I really started to train and actually be in the sport,” she said. “After high school season, the three months after that I would come down here every single day and this is where I trained.”
Ryan came into the NCAA championships having never finished better than fifth, which she did last year in platform. That changed right away on Thursday when she won the 1-meter springboard, her weakest event. Then she added another one the next night in the 3-meter, which is her best event.
“I’m in shock,” she said afterward. “But I knew it was possible. I mean anything is possible in this sport, that’s why I love it. Any day anyone can come in and win the title at this type of a meet. So to do it twice, two nights in a row, I’m blown away.”
Her quest to win a third title on Saturday fell short when she finished third in the platform. After her first two nights, Ryan admitted that it was hard to get mentally ready for her final event. But the reality is that it would have taken a gargantuan effort to unseat Southern Cal junior Haley Ishimatsu, the defending champion and NCAA record holder, who scored 365.15 points over her five dives. Texas junior Emma Ivory-Ganja was second at 349.3, followed by Ryan at 345.25.
So all things considered, Ryan was satisfied with her performance.
“I hit five for five, so you cant ask for anything better than that,” she said.
With her collegiate diving career over, Ryan can now look forward to one more year of classes at Georgia and a promising post-collegiate career. She qualified for the 19th FINA Diving World Cup, a major international event that takes place this July in Shanghai.
“So I’m going to work toward that, and depending on how it goes, we’ll keep looking to 2016,” she said, referring to the Olympics that year in Rio de Janeiro.
Whatever happens next, through, her legacy at Georgia is certainly secure.