Kuhn places 18th at NCAA debut


Photo courtesy of Walt Middleton

Senior diver Ling Kuhn and the Illinois women’s swimming and diving team compete on the final day of the 2019 Big Ten Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships. The championships took place in Bloomington, Indiana, on Feb. 22.

By Gabby Vazquez, Staff writer

Illinois alum Sabine Taaffe was the last women’s diver to make it to the NCAA Championship in 1992. For the first time since then, senior Ling Kuhn had the honor of representing the Illini on the diving platform at the 2019 NCAA Championship.

When she qualified in 1992, Taaffe finished 10th in three-meter diving and 14th in one-meter diving. At that time, she was the third Illinois diver to secure All-American honors.

Kuhn, senior in ACES from Bloomington, Illinois, set goals for herself at the beginning of her freshman year, including qualifying for the NCAA diving championship. She competed at the Morgan J. Burke Aquatic Center for the NCAA Zone C Championship and finished with a combined score of 483.10, which allowed her to advance in the NCAA Championship.

“Making it to the NCAA Championship has been my biggest goal since I started diving at Illinois,” Kuhn said. “Being the first diver since ’92 to make it is such a huge accomplishment, and being able to finally check this off my checklist is insane.”

Kuhn wrapped up her senior season placing 18th on platform at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championship. Kuhn walked away with scores of 54.60, 45.5, 45.00, 53.65 and 56.00 for a total of 254.75. Although her career has officially come to an end, Kuhn holds the school-record on platform (287.80) and is the second-best diver in Illinois history on both the one-meter springboard (294.15) and three-meter springboard (312.90), according to fightingillini.com.

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    Kuhn began her swimming career when she was 6 years old. Her parents quickly realized she was too short to be a swimmer and enlisted her in diving lessons soon after. According to Kuhn, her parents — both Illinois alumni — have always wanted nothing short of the best for their daughter. So, when they found out she had qualified for the NCAA Championship, they were ecstatic.

    Kuhn said her parents were proud of everything she had accomplished during her time as an Illini, but they’re ready to see her compete to the best of her ability this weekend.

    “My mom was screaming I-L-L in the parking lot as we were leaving (the Purdue meet),” she said.

    It’s been over 25 years since Illinois has had a diver qualify for this championship, and swimming and diving meets don’t draw crowds like the football and basketball teams do. But just like the other divers, Kuhn has put in a hefty amount of time and effort into diving, making her championship debut even sweeter.

    “No one really knows who I am,” Kuhn said. “They may not know me, but they will. I earned this spot. I deserve to be here as much as the other competitors do.”

    Former Olympian and Purdue graduate David Boudia was in attendance for the Zone C Championship at Purdue last week. Kuhn got the chance to talk to him for a brief moment after she competed.

    “David Boudia came up to me at Purdue and told me I was a really good diver. If an Olympic diver thinks I’m good, then obviously I’m doing something right,” Kuhn said.

    Illinois diving coach Manny Pollard is content with the way things have been going for Kuhn, he said. He’s been working hard alongside Kuhn and usually urges his athletes to set attainable goals well within their ability. Pollard said it’s easy to dream, but dreams don’t mean anything if you don’t put the work in to achieve them.

    Pollard is determined to educate his athletes about what it takes to compete at an elite level like the NCAA Championships and to be considered one of the best in the nation. Pollard, a two-time All-American diver, graduated from the University of Minnesota and notably finished fifth on platform and 13th in the one-meter event during the 2016 NCAA Championship his senior year.

    “I wasn’t a born prodigy,” Pollard said. “I had to work hard to get to where I wanted to be. I feel really good about how things are playing out, and I have really high standards set for her. I’m really excited to see how she does this weekend.”

    To ensure their success, student-athletes have been known to give up certain things throughout the season that could potentially halt their chances of making it further in their athletic career. Among those include giving up unhealthy eating habits and pulling all-nighters. For Kuhn, giving up gummy worms was a sacrifice she was willing to make if she was serious about accomplishing her goal of making it to the NCAA Championship.

    But, Kuhn said, her teammates still gave her gummy bears if she had an off day to help her feel better.

    “My teammates are so supportive of me. I’m so lucky to have girls like them in my corner,” Kuhn said.

    Despite making Illinois history, Kuhn is focused on simple things. She raved about how she wanted a water bottle with the NCAA logo on it.

    “That water bottle is honestly all I want from the competition this weekend,” Kuhn said. “When I was competing at Purdue, I kept thinking to myself, ‘do it for the water bottle! Do it for the water bottle!’”

    The NCAA Championship is the place to be for the best-of-the-best college athletes. Now Kuhn can officially say she competed with some of the best, and, although it may have been a nerve-wracking experience, she said the meet was something she will remember forever.


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