DURHAM, N.C. - At this point in the season, all focus is on perfecting the dive.
First semester was centered around strength training and improvements to prepare for the dual meet season starting in October, but now the dual meet season is over. Now, the Duke men’s diving team is immersed in the championship season, and all concentration is on polishing off technique.
But with postseason comes stress, pressures and expectations. Several months of training have led to this exact moment. Evan Moretti and Nathaniel Hernandez are no strangers to these postseason pressures. Moretti, a senior, and Hernandez, a junior, are veterans on the team and have both experienced the feeling of stepping onto the platform and springboard in high-stakes competitions, including the ACC and NCAA Championships. Throughout the school year, divers compete in one and three-meter springboard and platform competitions. Most of dual meet season, however, only features springboard competitions since most facilities do not have platform. Moretti and Hernandez excelled throughout the dual meet season, and they will step onto the platform for the final times as teammates, with one more chance to accomplish their goals for the season.
Moretti is nearing the end of his Duke diving career. He has been to the NCAA Championship meet each of his first three years as a Blue Devil, and now looks to have a perfect attendance record at the highest level of competition in collegiate diving. Over his four years, Moretti has been tabbed ACC Men’s Diver of the Week a total of four times, with two of those coming this season. Moretti also has two All-American accolades, one in the three-meter event his freshman season and one in the one-meter board his junior year.
“Going into the final season, I just want to go out with a bang,” Moretti said. “I want to make this my best season. This has been my best season so far; I’ve only improved over these last four years under coach Nunzio Esposto, and I just want to go out with a really good ending.”
Moretti plans to go back to his hometown of Scarsdale, N.Y., following graduation and begin preparing to take the LSAT.
But his teammate will still be here to uphold the high standards of Duke diving. Hernandez has one season left at Duke, and this has also been the best season of his collegiate career. Hernandez has twice been named ACC Men’s Diver of the Week this season. Last year, he also picked up an All-American accolade in platform diving at his second straight NCAA Championship appearance.
“I usually struggle a little bit in the fall and kind of get better as the season goes on,” Hernandez said. “But this year I was really happy with how we performed as a team and also individually. I think getting accolades like ACC Diver of the Week really helped my confidence, and that was something that I really struggled with last year.”
Hernandez’s season has given him confidence and drive to motivate him going into the final few weeks. His freshman year, he only qualified for one of the three events at NCAAs. Last year, he qualified for two of three. This year, Hernandez hopes to qualify for all three events and find himself in a final, like he did on platform last year, but with a better finish. He placed fourth in the event consolation final and 12th overall for honorable mention accolades, becoming he fourth diver in men’s program history to garner All-America status.
In the postseason, success does not come easily. The days and weeks leading up to it are busy and structured, to say the least. Moretti and Hernandez start their days at the pool around 6:30 or 6:50 a.m., depending on the day. They train for an hour-and-a-half, and then have another practice either from 12 to 2 p.m. or 2 to 4, again depending on the day. And on Saturday mornings, they have a three-hour practice starting at 7 a.m. On top of that, Moretti and Hernandez are still students attending one of the nation’s top academic institutions.
Both Moretti and Hernandez have received All-ACC Academic and ACC Academic Honor Roll distinction for the past two years. Hernandez made the College Swimming Coaches Association of America Scholar All-America first team in 2018. On top of academics and diving, Hernandez is a resident assistant for a dorm on campus and is planning to get involved in research on campus in pursuit of a future PhD in pharmacology.
“The culture at Duke really helps,” Moretti said on balancing diving and academics. “Everybody is really going for something, everybody has got a goal, everybody is working super-hard. Surrounding yourself with that kind of student and those kinds of people is just a great environment.”
Along with focusing on representing Duke as an athlete and student, the fact that the U.S. Olympics Trials are not too far away is always in the back of Hernandez’s mind. Being able to lock down an Olympic Trial qualifying score would mean the Hernandez can focus once again on the basics. The basics in diving have become so crucial in competition because as the sport has evolved and dives have become more and more difficult, everything comes down to the basic techniques.
Duke, in recent years, has had a tradition of divers competing in the Olympics. Nick McCrory captured four NCAA titles on platform and was a four-year ACC Men’s Diver of the Year, in addition to earning a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games. Abby Johnston of the women’s team earned an NCAA title in 2011 on three-meter to become Duke’s first women’s diving NCAA champion. She went on to medal in the 2012 Olympics as well, with a silver in the synchronized three-meter event.
“It definitely speaks to the Duke program name,” Hernandez said of Duke’s Olympic divers. “I know that when I was being recruited, that was something I thought about. Just knowing the success of the program, it really pushes me to do better knowing the success of past people that have been on the team.”
Moretti and Hernandez got a taste for the postseason competition when both selected to participate in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge earlier this season, simultaneously representing Duke and the ACC. Divers who are normally considered rivals were now teammates, and the two were able to see what competition they would be facing in the future. But this was all at the beginning of the season.
More recently, at the ACC meet in Greensboro, Moretti reached the finals in both springboards and platform and was selected the Men’s Most Valuable Diver of the meet. He enjoyed his first career podium finish, taking second place on the three-meter board and claiming fourth on the platform (Hernandez took seventh). Moretti became just the second diver in Duke history to earn All-ACC honors, joining the 10-time conference champ McCrory.
“Evan’s been a consistent performer over the last four years and it was just awesome for him to get Most Valuable Diver,” Esposto said. “He had a really good meet across all three events. It was nice to see him on the podium on 3-meter, getting second, and finishing off his senior year in that way.”
Moretti and Hernandez next compete in the Zone Diving meet March 11-13 to try to qualify for the 2019 NCAA Championships.
“I want all my work to pay off, of course, and just have fun with it,” said Moretti. “I want to have fun competing and representing Duke because that’s not an opportunity everybody gets. Coming into the final season, you realize it’s only temporary that you get such an honor to compete under Duke’s name.”