China’s Vicky Xu made her NCAA debut in January, and a month from now, her collegiate career will be just about over.
The China native is pursuing a degree in communications at the University of Kansas after getting an athletic training degree in three years back home. She didn’t think her initial degree would do her much good in the professional world, so she sought out an opportunity in the United States.
“So ultimately her whole thing is, ‘listen, I want to be able to be successful in the world after this,”’ Kansas Head Diving Coach Gabe Downey told SwimSwam. “And it’s kind of a situation where everything is a nice means to an ends for her. And frankly I love that about her – because we love her, she’s an incredible diver of course and all that – but to me, it’s really what the student-athlete thing is supposed to be about, as opposed to just diving, or just swimming, or whatever the case may be.”
Xu competed for a provincial team in China in addition to traveling with the national team, so she has already had the chance to compete against some of the world’s best. With that experience behind her, she brings a new training mentality to the Kansas pool deck.
“The girls immediately loved her, but also getting to watch somebody at that elite level, it’s really risen all of our divers,” said Downey. “They get to see how she trains, but also just the consistency part. She has the work ethic, the speed at which she trains. And so that’s what’s great. It’s been wonderful for all of our divers.”
“I know in talking with Clark Campbell, our head [swim] coach, he said even swimmers, watching elite athletes, no matter what it is, is always a great thing,” Downey said.
He added that Xu knows “exactly how much she has to put into everything.” Whether she’s performing drills or competing, she is relaxed but maintains perfect technique.
“Then when she gets to that front three-and-a-half, which is her hardest one, she has everything left in the tank, but she can still go after it with that same high-level technique,” Downey said. “So really that’s the thing that impresses me the most: she just is so aware of what she needs at all times to be at her best.”
Xu is adjusting as well as can be expected to the American college lifestyle. She joined the team for winter training and then had her first and final home meet – Senior Day – last weekend against Iowa State. There, she broke the Big 12 and Robinson Natatorium records on the 3-meter board and also won the 1-meter handily. In her prior two appearances, Xu went undefeated on the 3-meter board, also taking down Arkansas’ defending NCAA champion Brooke Schultz by .38 in an early-February dual meet.
Her record score of 420.60 ranks 7th in Division I this season.
“We’ve seen some high-level divers already and we’ve talked about, of course, what it’s going to take to be successful at Big 12s, Zones, and so forth. In a lot of ways, it’s still going to be a little eyeopening for her,” said Downey. “But she’s been very surprised about just how the swimming component to it works – she’s not used to that. She’s been surprised with the crowds, the cheering, the way we do it versus what she’s accustomed to. So there’s definitely a learning curve for her.”
“I am really enjoying the college sports culture, the collegiate sports programs in China are not as competitive as they are here in the United States,” Xu told SwimSwam via email. “It has been such a fun experience so far to be able to compete in this atmosphere. The support from my teammates and friends that I have made at KU makes me feel at home.”
And of course, Xu is a huge pickup for Kansas. The team had zero NCAA qualifiers over last two seasons, let alone someone with a shot at the big final. So how did Xu wind up a Jayhawk?
“So basically it was a situation of she didn’t realize that she had any options,” Downey said. “We heard, ‘hey, there’s this girl that is elite level and so forth that would really like to come to the US.’ And so when I reached out to her, it was a deal where we weren’t recruiting against all the other schools, frankly.”
Xu will take a trip home to compete at Chinese Nationals in April, and then after that, her focus is on the education.
“This is really for her about the degree and about the college process. I feel like we’re doing what the NCAA is really supposed to be about, giving these kids an opportunity, an one she feels like she wouldn’t have had,” Downey said. “So for what it’s worth, that’s probably my biggest takeaway.”