by Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Freshman year can be tough on a student-athlete.
There’s a lot of pressure in adapting to college life often while living on your own for the first time. At a school like Georgia Tech there’s added pressure of high-level academics. That doesn’t even take into account the athletic side and the ramped-up level of competition.
It’s tough, but Camryn Hidalgo is tougher and is always up for a challenge.
“It’s definitely a change from being a high school student and just diving after school. The practices are a lot longer and we’re getting through a lot more reps. Then school’s obviously a lot tougher,” said the Mission Viejo, Calif., native, who also got toughened up growing up dealing with three brothers -- one older, two younger. “But I love the atmosphere of it because we’re usually not hanging with the swim team back at home. Having a huge team is really nice and really supportive. So having people around me that are just as interested in academics and athletics is really motivating. It’s a lot more motivating having the whole swim team and dive team be affected by my performance.”
Hidalgo’s had a great effect on the team, as in four meets, she’s chalked up four first-place finishes in the 1-meter and three firsts at 3-meters -- finishing second the other time behind Northwestern’s junior all-American Olivia Rosendahl. It is part of why GT women’s swimming & diving is off to a 3-1 start.
“I definitely didn’t think that any of this would happen,” she said. “When I go into competition I definitely try to think of it more as practice or I try to train at practice how I would a competition. So I definitely like to try to calm myself down but also try to maintain my competitive mindset. Honestly, a lot of this is just having the team count on me because when I’m put under a lot of pressure I tend to try to live up to it. So having that pressure has really helped me out.
“I’m just working hard trying to keep my focus, doing my dives like I know I can do them and having my team support me has helped a lot,” she added.
Tech diving coach John Ames has been impressed by her work ethic.
“She watches the dives on video and she knows where the dives need to be for her to be at the highest level that she wants to be at,” said Ames, in his 17th year with Georgia Tech’s swimming & diving program. “I don’t see any problem as far as her pushing herself because she still has harder dives that she needs to learn and that she wants to learn. I just asked her about a platform dive, a back, 3 ½ off 10 meter. I said, ‘So when are we going to start working on that?’ She said, ‘Whenever you want.’ So she’s ready to go.”
Ames isn’t surprised with Hidalgo’s success.
“I knew who I was recruiting when I recruited her,” he said. “To be honest with you, I don’t think that she’s diving the best that she’s capable of yet. I think she’s diving solidly and doing very well but I think she has higher expectations than where she is right now. It looks like everything's progressing in the right way.”
Hidalgo has progressed markedly since having to abandon her first love, gymnastics. She had no choice, after being diagnosed with Panner’s disease, a degenerative bone condition found in kids under 10, usually in athletes, affecting their dominant arm. Panner’s ate away at a ligament in her elbow leaving her unable to lift her arm enough to even touch her shoulder.
She wanted to try diving, but her mother, Kirsten, stopped her, believing the sport was too dangerous.
It didn’t take long for Cami, Kirsten, and pretty much everyone in the Hidalgo household to see that diving couldn’t be as bad as inactivity.
“I stopped doing athletics completely for like a year,” she recalled. “It was NOT fun, going home and having nothing to do. So after a lot of X-Rays, I asked my doctor about diving and how that would work. He said that a lot of gymnasts actually transfer to diving. My mom got on board so I started about a year after.”
While transitioning is a hit-or-miss proposition, for Cami, it has proved a hit.
“I was really fortunate because depending on how long you’re in gymnastics, it’s either very hard to transfer into diving or it’s not,” she said. “Because I had the basics of gymnastics and a pretty good work regimen I was able to move pretty fluently into diving. But I know some gymnasts, that have dedicated their whole life to gymnastics, have had trouble maybe getting comfortable with landing on their head or diving into water and using a board instead of a beam in routines. Being young I was still moldable to be a diver so it worked out well.”
She won a gold medal at the Junior National Diving Championships at 1-meter in 2012 and ‘13, and won gold in the platform at the 2014 USA Diving AT&T National Diving Championships. In high school, at Capistrano Valley High School, she won the CIF Southern Section Division I Diving Champion her final three years (2014-16) and was second overall at state sectionals.
She also dove on the AAU level for the Mission Viejo Nadadores, winning gold in the platform at the 2014 USA Diving AT&T National Diving Championships, finishing runner-up in the 3-meter at the 2015 USA Diving AT&T National Diving Championships and took home a gold medal in the 1-meter, competed in the finals of the 3-meter and won silver in the platform at the 2016 USA Diving AT&T National Diving Championships. She even competed at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, placing 12th in the platform.
While with the Nadadores, she teamed with Matt Casillas, now a junior at Georgia Tech.
It’s put her in a comfort zone away from the pool and helped put her in the zone at it.
“It’s really nice and it’s really nice practicing because we’ve been competitors,” she said. “It helps us motivate each other to do better during practice, it keeps us in line and, because we’re so close, we’re able to tell each other, ‘Make sure to do this, this and this,’ in practice and also for school.”
“I think it’s probably helped a lot,” said Ames. “But I don’t think the transition was going to be as difficult for her as some. She’s probably going to feel more at home just because she’s competed against these top-level divers in the past. As far as family feeling goes and just adjusting to college life, I think that the California connection helps a lot.”
Still, there’s success then there’s record-setting success.
On Oct. 28, against Delta State, she set Georgia Tech records in the 1-meter, with a 321.15, breaking Shannon Lumbra’s record set two years ago, and 3-meters, where her 353.63 passed the previous high of 351.60 set by Laurissa Prystaj in 2005. Both dives are ACC-bests so far this season and rank top-10 nationally -- the 1-meter dive is 10th, the 3-meter eighth.
The dual records resulted in being named ACC Diver of the Week twice. Making the award sweeter the second time was Casillas winning ACC Men’s Diver of the Week.
“It’s definitely been really exciting,” she said. “I’ve worked really hard with John, we’ve been fixing a lot of my corrections, learning new dives. So it’s really fun and exciting to see how my work is coming into play. Getting diver of the week was really exciting. It’s really an honor. Anything to be able to represent my team in a good light is really rewarding for me.”
Ames believes Hidalgo is only going to get better because she isn’t going to be caught-up in individual accolades.
“I don’t think that the records are a motivating factor for her,” he said. “What motivates her is diving as well as she knows she can. I don’t think she’s quite reached the peak of where she has been in the past. I think she’s headed in that direction. She’s already gotten a lot of the fundamentals down. As far as her pushing herself because she still has harder dives that she needs to learn and that she wants to learn.
“I don’t really see any issues as far as motivation because it’s not the records,” he added. “She might have a score that she wants to reach but it’s a lot higher than what the record is. I think that the competitions and where she places, are probably going to be a motivating factor and getting to NCAA’s and getting to finals of ACC’s and winning at ACC’s. I think that her goals are at the very, very top.”
Top of the list for Cami right now is next Wednesday’s meet at No. 6 Georgia. She may be from the West coast, but she knows become familiar with the rivalry.
“I’m really excited. I know about UGA and Georgia Tech, it’s huge,” she said. “I just have to keep focused. I really want to be able to give the team what they need in order to help fuel them for their competition for swimming. So it’s just training and training and training.”