Dec. 22, 2009
By Kelly Taylor
Sports Information Student Assistant
Both a mentally and physically demanding sport, diving entails precise skill, composure, and courage. While some may undoubtedly possess these qualities from the onset of their careers, other may grow into their natural talents. For senior Natalie Stitt, improvement is the name of the game.
Stitt, a senior diver on the Fighting Irish squad, exemplifies athletic progression and improvement that outshines many. She took home the team’s most improved diver award during her sophomore and junior campaigns, and competed at the NCAA Championships for the first time last year. Alan George, assistant sports information director for women’s swimming and diving, has deemed her as “one of the most improved divers during her four years at Notre Dame.”
Originally a gymnast, Stitt made the transition to diving after encouragement from her mother. “My mom thought I would be good at it,” Stitt said. “Since I had done gymnastics and pole vaulting in the past, diving seemed like it made sense.” Although Stitt may have seen diving in her future–as gymnasts usually make for successful divers–she never quite realized just how high her potential would reach while diving for the Fighting Irish.
“I did gymnastics for 10 years, and I wasn’t really sure that I could compete as a diver at the collegiate level,” Stitt said. It was not until December of her senior year of high school that Stitt added Notre Dame to her list of potential colleges.
“I had a teammate who played water polo here, and they encouraged me to consider it,” Stitt said. Upon finally deciding to attend Notre Dame, Stitt brings herself back to the moment of the decision. “I came out here for a recruiting trip and I just knew,” Stitt said. “I just got that feeling.”
For those who know Stitt’s diving career well, improvement certainly comes to mind. Interestingly enough, she attributes much of her development to others. Stitt believes she owes the majority of her improvement to her coach and teammates. Having never competed on the 3-meter board in high school, Stitt was faced with an entirely new dilemma upon entering college. “I had to learn a lot of new things on the 3-meter board, and my coach, Caiming Xie, was so good about pushing me, while not pushing me too hard,” Stitt said. “He is a great coach.”
Stitt’s teammates added another component of camaraderie. “My team has always been so supportive of me, and the diving team as a whole is just really close,” Stitt said. It is clear that shedoes not take any of her team’s companionship for granted.
Specifically, Stitt is now serving as a mentor for fellow diver Jenny Chiang. Chiang, a freshman, is predicted to follow in Stitt’s successful footsteps. “Chiang is a very strong diver,” Stitt said. Not only that, but she even aids Stitt towards further advancing her skills and techniques. “She is good enough now that she even pushes me,” Stitt said. “We have the kind of relationship where we’re able to push each other to become better.”
Stitt is aiming towards earning another spot at the NCAA Championships. Once again, improvement is at the forefront of her mind. “Last year, I was really intimidated to be surrounded by such great divers, and I think my nerves got the best of me,” Stitt said. According to her, being surrounded by Olympians is not the most calming of situations. “This year, I hope I can make it to the NCAAs and perform better, since I know what to expect,” she said.
In order to qualify for the NCAA Championships, Stitt must perform well at the NCAA Zone Championships, which essentially decides her fate. “Zone is the meet that is the most intense for me because it’s the one chance I have to make it to the NCAA Championships,” Stitt said. Although she may be feeling the pressure, her experience makes her a viable candidate for success.
In terms of strategy, Stitt is certainly well equipped. Different coaches follow different strategies, but Stitt believes hers to be most effective. “Usually I start out with a strong dive, then move onto my weaker dives, and then end with a confident dive,” Stitt said. “My hardest dive, for me, is the reverse two-and-a-half pike off of the 3-meter board.” Fighting Irish fans undoubtedly will be pushing for Stitt to hit those nail-biters.
Aside from diving, Stitt is pursuing a unique and intriguing academic path. As an English major and a peace studies minor, she finds absolute contentment. “I really like English because it introduces you to a lot of different perspectives and it’s a good outlet to utilize in order to see different points of view,” Stitt said. Peace studies, however, proves equally if not more rewarding. “I love peace studies; you learn a lot about the world. It can be depressing sometimes, but I still love it,” Stitt said. Upon graduation, Stitt plans on immersing herself in a year of service before pursuing graduate school.
Regardless of her future endeavors, one thing is certain about the present, for Stitt. “I love Notre Dame,” she asserted. “The relationships that I have formed here are most important to me, and it has been such a great experience. Diving has played such a huge role in my college life.”
While Stitt looks to embark on her most successful diving campaign yet for the 2009-2010 season, it is evident that she will take away more than athletic accolades. An athlete of unparalleled improvement, Stitt’s career for the Fighting Irish will certainly be remembered.
— ND —