Diver bounces back from injury. Sophomore finishes second at Big East Championships
By NOREEN GILLESPIE
Last year, diver Meghan Perry-Eaton thought she would never get on the diving board again.
Sidelined midway through her freshman year with fractures in her spine and bulging discs, there were days that she couldn't even bear the pain to pull herself out of the pool.
"My freshman year was horrible. I was so excited about coming here and diving and then in just all stopped," the sophomore from Tampa, Fla. said. "I thought my career was over."
But Thursday night at the Big East Swimming and Diving Championships, Perry-Eaton proved her career is just beginning. Taking the runner-up position on the 1-meter board, Perry-Eaton's first championship performance was nearly flawless.
Perry-Eaton narrowly missed defeating senior Michelle Davison of Miami, who won the event with a score of 300.65. Perry-Eaton finished with 293.30 points. No Notre Dame diver has ever defeated a Miami diver since joining the Big East.
"I was a little nervous, and I'm not used to that," Perry-Eaton said. "I didn't know what to expect."
Perry-Eaton took the lead in the competition after the fourth round, inching ahead of Davison by two points. She remained in the lead going into the sixth round by six points, but over-rotated on her final dive, a front 2 1/2 tuck.
She nailed the dive in preliminary competition Thursday morning, even though it wasn't one of her best dives. The slip in finals was the result of the trouble Perry-Eaton has had all season focusing on her dives.
"Mentally, I'm just a basket case right now," she said. "I don't know what to expect day to day. I'm really excited — I wish I had won, because I could have. My last dive was pretty bad, but that's life."
The win in the 1-meter comes after an inconsistent season for Perry-Eaton. She shined at the Minnesota Invitational in November, coming back from fifth place to win the 1-meter. But in dual meet performances she struggled, even failing a dive at the Northwestern meet in January.
But she's the type of diver that hangs tough, said diving coach Caiming Xie.
"I've told her the five `C' words: confidence, competitive, calm, comfortable and concentrate," he said. "I've said if you can control yourself, you can control the meet."
The injury still nags at her, in practice and in competition, however. And for a diver who is so tough, it's a constant struggle between coach and athlete about training. When she wants to push harder, Xie sometimes tells her to stop, Perry-Eaton said. There are times, too, when she's in pain and he tells her to keep going.
Both are difficult in finding a training balance that lets her push hard enough, but rest enough to heal.
"I feel like a different diver, which is kind of upsetting," she said.
"Sometimes because her back hurts, she cannot make her last dive," Xie said. "She's not at her best yet, but she's getting back."
Perry-Eaton will climb up on the boards again today in the 3-meter competition. Like every other performance this season, she knows it's a day-to-day guess at how she'll perform.
"I hope I do well," she said, smiling. "I feel like I'm ready to. Mentally, I'm getting ready. Physically, I can get up there and win. But mentally, I can get up there and lose."
All Sports Stories for Friday, February 22, 2002