2020 W. NCAA Picks: Influx of New Faces Vying For Diving Titles


The final NCAA Diving Zone is still qualifying athletes this week, but with most of the field set, we can preview all three diving events – and how they could affect the team swimming & diving points battle at 2020 women’s NCAAs.

1-Meter Springboard

Texas senior Alison Gibson has been an A finalist the past three years, winning as a freshman then taking 4th as a sophomore and 3rd as a junior. With every diver who has ever beaten her in this event no longer competing in the NCAA, Gibson is the clear-cut favorite.

That’s aided by a huge Olympic-year clearout of last year’s top 8. Three 2019 A finalists graduated (including runner-up Maria Polyakova), NCAA champ Sarah Bacon is taking a redshirt season, and fourth-placer Brooke Schultz hasn’t competed for Arkansas all year.

Brooke Madden of Florida had scored the past two seasons and was 7th last year. But she missed qualifying with a 14th-place finish out of Zone B. Emily Bretscher out of Purdue had a huge sophomore season, moving from 39th as a rookie to 10th last year, though she still has to qualify out of Zone C this week. Stanford had a pair of freshmen score last year, and things should only get better for Daria Lenz and Carolina Sculti with the field thinned out considerably in 2020.

Other standouts:

Arizona State’s Frida Kaellgren was a strong bet to return to the A final as a 2018 All-American, but she didn’t compete at Zones and won’t compete at NCAAs.

Auburn’s Alison Maillard scored as a freshman in 2017, but just missed out the past two years in 19th and 17th. She’s on a roll after winning SECs last month. Fellow SEC riser Aimee Wilson of LSU missed scoring last year as a freshman, but won the prestigious Art Adamson Invite this season and was second at SECs.

A few newcomers to watch at traditional diving powers: Ohio State’s Mackenzie Crawford and Minnesota’s Joy Zhu went 1-2 at Big Tens. Zhu beat out Gibson for the Zone D title. UCLA’s Ruby Neave is technically a junior, but missed all of last year with injury. She beat both Stanford sophomores for the Pac-12 title, and then again at Zone E, though Hawaii’s Daphne Wils won that meet.

Florida International’s Mandy Song was the Zone B champ, though it’s hard to project what that means, as Zone B isn’t quite as competitive as D and E. Virginia Tech’s Teagan Moravek won in Zone A, traditionally a fairly weak diving zone, but she and Virginia’s Sydney Dusel were the clear-cut top two in that Zone by more than 40 points.

Top 8 Picks:

Place Diver Team 2019 Finish
1 Alison Gibson Texas 3rd
2 Joy Zhu Minnesota
3 Daphne Wils Hawaii
4 Carolina Sculti Stanford 12th
5 Emily Bretscher Purdue 10th
6 Daria Lenz Stanford 11th
7 Mackenzie Crawford Ohio State
8 Ruby Neave UCLA

3-Meter Springboard

Once again, last year’s A final clears out significantly, with three graduations and several more underclassmen not returning. Miami’s Alicia Blagg was the highest returner after taking 3rd last year, but failed to qualify out of Zone B.

Texas’s Alison Gibson is the only returner from the top 8, and a definite favorite after beating a tough Zone D field.

Kentucky’s Kyndal Knight scored from the B final last year as a freshman, but appears to have taken a big leap forward this year while winning the SEC title on 3-meter. She beat Alison Maillard of Auburn for that conference title. Stanford sophomore Carolina Sculti is another riser to watch – she won Pac-12s by more than 30 points.

Other standouts:

Watch for a lot of new names to fill in here – especially underclassmen. Kansas freshman Jiayu Chen might be the favorite – she beat Gibson by three points to win the Big 12 title, breaking a meet record. Another freshman, Minnesota’s Joy Zhuwas the Big Ten runner-up on both 1-meter and 3-meter. Those two placed highly in a tough Zone D field, along with LSU sophomore Aimee Wilson and Nebraska sophomore Sara Troyer.

Purdue junior Emily Bretscher was just 34th last year, but surged to win the Big Ten title this year. Texas sophomore Paola Pineda only made NCAAs on platform last year as a rookie, but was third at Big 12s on 3-meter this season.

In Zone B, Miami’s Mia Vallee won 3-meter, beating two 2018 NCAA scorers in the process. Vallee is a freshman and crushed that field by 25 points. In the relatively tougher Zone E, Hawaii’s Daphne Wils won both springboards, and both she and USC’s Nike Agunbiade beat Stanford’s returning scorer Sculti. Zone A went to Virginia’s Sydney Dusel, who is returning from injury this season.

Top 8 Picks:

Place Diver Team 2019 Finish
1 Alison Gibson Texas 6th
2 Carolina Sculti Stanford 14th
3 Jiayu Chen Kansas
4 Joy Zhu Minnesota
5 Daphne Wils Hawaii
6 Kyndal Knight Kentucky 13th
7 Aimee Wilson LSU 25th
8 Emily Bretscher Purdue 34th


Platform has the most returning scorers of the three dive events, but still only two A finalists. Emily Meaney was the runner-up last year, and has generally been very good at NCAAs (7th as a freshman, 2nd as a junior), with one anomaly in her sophomore year, where she was 27th.

Florida International’s Maha Gouda was 8th as a freshman and should be in line for a top-3 finish this year. She also won in Zone B.

Other standouts:

There’s a whole crowd of returning B finalists from last year, but they’re going to have to jockey with a lot of newcomers, as freshman won titles in the Big Ten (Northwestern’s Markie Hopkins), Big 12 (Texas’s Jordan Skilken) and SEC (Alabama’s Tanesha Lucoe). Meanwhile Stanford junior Mia Paulsen won the Pac-12 title, but it’s hard to know how much to weight that, since Paulsen won Pac-12s last year, too, then took 35th at NCAAs. Still, Paulsen backed it up with a Zone E win, so she’s got to be considered a contender.

Her teammate Daria Lenz is an equal threat, after taking 8th last year.

Purdue has a full complement of threats. Emily Bretscher was 10th last year. But at Big Tens this year, she was 6th, with freshman teammate Maycey Vieta (2nd) and sophomore teammate Maggie Merriman (3rd) ahead of her.

Michigan’s Christy Cutshaw was a scorer in 2018 (10th), but fell to 28th last year. Texas should have a few contenders, including Paola Pineda, who was 17th and just missed scoring last year.

Wisconsin’s Tereza Vithoulka won the tough Zone D and could push to score, though most of the top threats in that zone were already qualified and seemed to pretty much coast in on autopilot in the final day.

FIU looked to have two A final contenders, but Rachel Foord didn’t qualify out of Zone B. Last year’s B finalist Freida Lim did not qualify for Georgia.

Top 8 Picks:

Place Diver Team 2019 Finish
1 Emily Meaney Purdue 2nd
2 Maha Gouda Florida International 8th
3 Mia Paulsen Stanford 35th
4 Emily Bretscher Purdue 10th
5 Daria Lenz Stanford 13th
6 Jordan Skilken Texas
7 Markie Hopkins Northwestern
8 Carly Souza USC 16th

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
4 years ago

Um, is any of this still happening…?

4 years ago

Thank you SwimSwam for this analysis – helps us when considering overall team scores!

4 years ago

as much as i hate to say it (no hate to stanford, just want a new champion like UVA or Cal and a closer title race) – diving will push stanford over the edge with virtually no potential UVA/Cal scoring divers :(((

Reply to  Swimmuh
4 years ago

UVA diving is on a roll, with three women qualifying and Sydney Dusel looking very strong. While no one is saying they’ll match Stanford in diving points, there is genuine excitement and potential for some points this year, as well as a promising future for the program.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

Read More »