Posted: 03/08/2012 | Last updated: March 8, 2012 at 10:07 AM
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – For the first time since 2008, a Lehigh diver has qualified for the NCAA regional meet. Senior Connor Styles will travel to Buffalo this weekend to represent the Mountain Hawks at the Zone A NCAA diving competition, Friday and Saturday at the University at Buffalo’s Alumni Arena Natatorium.
Styles qualified for the one meter event last November, when he scored a 301.75 at the Princeton Invitational. The last Lehigh diver to qualify for the zone diving meet was Clark Cohen in 2008, though he did not compete in the event. To qualify, a diver must achieve a score over 300, which Styles has done on several occasions this season.
“I think it’s cool,” Styles said. “Clark is the only other one I’ve heard of [to make zones], at least in a while. It’s cool to represent Lehigh at this level.”
Making the NCAA tournament has been a goal for the Chappaqua, N.Y. native since his freshman year, despite the fact that he began diving his junior year of high school, without a coach.
“He’s come a long way from the first time I saw him dive,” said diving coach Steve Ferreira. “He’s still improving very quickly, probably faster than anyone else who is going to zones.”
Ferreira knows a thing or two about competing on a national stage. A former standout at the University of Connecticut, Ferreira won the NCAA Zone Diving championship on the three meter board, and qualified for the NCAA Championship meet in both the one and three meter events.
“His true personality comes out when he’s on the diving board,” said Ferreira. “He’s a great worker; he works really hard and tests himself every day. He always comes in with a goal.”
A former walk-on, Styles will look for a strong showing at the regional tournament to cap off a successful collegiate campaign, which has included a Patriot League Diver of the Week award last November, Lehigh’s first since 2008, and a fourth-place finish in the Patriot League championship in the three meter event last month.
He even broke an 18 year old school record on the three meter board during the Patriot League Championships in February. His score of 315.25 broke Kevin Murphy’s school record, set in 1994.
The NCAA splits swimming and diving regionals into five geographical areas. Zone A is the northeast zone, ranging from Maine down to West Virginia. Styles is one of eight Patriot League divers to qualify for the meet. Army’s Chris Nguyen, Zachary Woods, and Josh Urnezis, Navy’s Ben Freedman and Will Mayo, American’s Melissa Parker and Bucknell’s Katie Hetherington have also earned spots in Zone A qualifiers.
“I think it’ll be fun, I just want to go and see how it is. It’ll be fun to compete against guys these good,” said Styles.
There is no doubt that Ferreira will have his diver ready for the tournament.
“Based on experience, I know that when you get to the meet you have to know what your game is. You can’t try to change the way you dive in order to be more competitive, that’s for practice. You don’t want to go to the meet and be affected by what other people are doing. You want to just know what you have to do, and stay focused.”
A top-four finish at the regional level means a trip to the NCAA Championship meet at the end of March.
“A win would be pretty intense, a win would be huge,” said Styles.
“A win would be really, really nice,” said Ferreira. “It’s a competitive field; everyone that makes it to this meet is going to be really competitive. But we’ll see. There’s definitely a chance. “
The NCAA Zone A diving meet begins Friday at noon with the three meter competition from Buffalo, N.Y. The one meter event begins Saturday at noon. The NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships will take place March 22-24 in Seattle.
Story written by Gordon Stevenson ‘12