AUBURN, Ala. – Blue Devil divers MaryEllen Targonski, Mackenzie Willborn and Nathaniel Hernandez garnered the first NCAA bids of their careers Wednesday to highlight the final day of competition at the NCAA Zone B Diving Championships.
An ACC finalist on the platform last month at the conference championships, Targonski led a quartet of Duke women in the event finals. She improved upon her preliminaries scores on each of her dives to finish with a season-best award of 265.30. With a combined score of 508.20, Targonski placed sixth overall to claim one of the seven qualifying spots.
Willborn will also head to Indianapolis later this month with a seventh-place finish in the platform finals (504.30). She posted a season-best award of 254.90 in finals, topping the 50-point mark in four of the five rounds. Willborn’s highest-scoring dive of the day came in fourth round, when she received an award of 59.45 on a reverse 2 ½ somersault.
Willborn is also eligible to compete in the three-meter springboard competition at NCAAs after earning a top-12 finish in that event Monday.
Redshirt senior Jaimee Gundry and freshman Jaina Gaudette also advanced to the women’s platform finals Wednesday. Gundry came in ninth overall (497.95) after turning in a season-best award of 261.65 during preliminaries, while Gaudette was 12th (458.65).
Freshman Nathaniel Hernandez reached an event final for the second-straight day in Auburn, posting a top-18 finish in the men’s platform preliminaries. The Blue Devil rookie missed on his first dive in finals, but roared back with scores of 66.00 and 70.40 in the second and third rounds. Hernandez was 12th with one dive remaining, and secured his trip to NCAAs with 67.20 points on his final dive, a back 1 ½ somersault with 2 ½ twists for a 2.8 degree of difficulty. He claimed the last of the nine available qualifying spots with a combined score of 653.00.
"Early on, Nate was down in the teens, but he slowly climbed his way back up," said head diving coach Nunzio Esposto. "On his last dive, he got up there on the seven-meter and got 8s - it was very exciting for him to be able to do that."
In the men’s platform preliminaries, sophomore Josh Owsiany was 20th with a score of 283.80 points.
Over the course of three days at the NCAA Zone B Diving Championships, the Blue Devils featured at least one diver in each of the event finals. All three Duke men reached the three-meter springboard finals Tuesday, while the women featured four divers in Wednesday’s platform finals.
Esposto's group will send four to Indianapolis – Targonski, Willborn and Hernandez to compete on the platform, Willborn on the three-meter springboard and sophomore Evan Moretti in the one and three-meter springboard events. Moretti and Hernandez will join teammates Peter Kropp and Dylan Payne at the NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships, as the senior duo was selected to the NCAA field earlier Wednesday.
"It was really exciting with four of them qualifying," Esposto said. "Evan did really well those first two days. The third day, all five of the girls performed well on the platform. It's great to have that many qualifiers, and we had a couple others who were very close. Josh had a really good day on three-meter and Jaimee was impressive on the platform. We're looking forward to taking our group to NCAAs."
The NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships get underway next Wednesday in Indianapolis, followed by the men’s national meet March 22-25.