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Monday, October 23, 2017

Sports

South African diver hopes for NCAA title


Bouter was one of the driving forces behind the swimming & diving team’s conference championship last season, its first in program history. | Thomas Dwyer/TheCougar

Standing 3 meters above the ground on a platform, knowing in less than three seconds you will be diving face first into a pool — all the nerves in the world fill your head at that moment.

Nerves are the one thing that has kept redshirt senior diver Micaela Bouter from becoming an NCAA champion.

Bouter was one of the driving forces behind the swimming and diving team’s conference championship last season — its first in program history. She continued her success at conference by representing South Africa at the 2017 FINA World Championships. That experience has made Bouter set her goals even higher and want to close out her college career with an NCAA title.

“That’s definitely my goal for this year,” Bouter said. “It has been my goal every single year, and I definitely should’ve made it every single year. I have the ability to make it — it’s just my mental side lets me down every year. I have the scores to make it.”

The nerves come from competing in big meets like the NCAA Zone Meet, Bouter said, where she represented the Cougars in March in the 3-meter and 1-meter dives. She placed ninth and 11th, respectively, but divers have to place in the top seven to qualify for the championships.

Bouter knows that only through experiences like that will she overcome her nerves. That summer Bouter’s coaches saw her already starting to perform at a higher level. At the National Championships in Durban, South Africa, Bouter placed second in the 3-meter springboard, punching her ticket to the World Championships in Budapest.

Though she failed to medal in either the 3-meter springboard or the 3-meter synchronized dive, Bouter’s coaches saw that her competitive skill had reached a new height.

“She competed better at that one than she has at anything since I’ve been here,” said diving coach Bob Gunter. “She missed one dive, and that put her back a bit. And in a competition of that high level you can’t miss. If she wouldn’t have missed that, she would’ve placed well.”

Where it all started

Bouter, a native of Johannesburg, has been diving since she was 10 years old. She ended up in Houston for university thanks to former UH diving coach and Olympian Jane Figueiredo.

The Conference USA swimming and diving coach of the decade was in South Africa on a sabbatical when she learned of Bouter. Figueiredo, a native of Zimbabwe, visited the diving national championships, where she met Bouter and offered her a scholarship to Houston on the spot, Bouter said.

Since coming to Houston, Bouter has earned more than a handful of accolades and accomplishments, including the American Diver of the Week nine times and qualifying for the NCAA Zone Meet three times.

“I really liked coming here because I’d kind of reached my peak in South Africa,” Bouter said. “Our diving community is really small, and so coming here allowed me to get a lot more exposure to harder competition and bigger competition for sure. It was difficult at first, but I’ve definitely found my footing.”

Her top accolade came last March when she was named the American Athletic Conference Most Outstanding Diver. But now in her final season with the Cougars, Bouter’s fixed on helping the team repeat as conference champions and getting as many as possible to the NCAA championships.

The team seems poised to do so as they are returning nine of the 10 all-conference performers from last season. The Cougars already won their first meet of the season at North Texas on Saturday, so everything appears to be moving in the right direction.

Future goals

But Bouter also has her sights set on the future. After competing against the best in the world, she proved to herself that she can compete in the top levels of her sport. Bouter has set the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a personal goal for herself.

A perfect ending to Bouter’s senior year would see her team repeating as conference champions, winning at the NCAA titles and setting the swimming and diving program up to win for many years down the line.

“She is willing to do what it takes,” Gunter said. “She should be able to be a little more aggressive at the competitions. The NCAA championships is one of her big goals, and if that’s her goal, then the conference will take care of itself.”

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