MacKenzie Tweardy came close to qualifying for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships last year.
This time around she left no doubt.
After placing third in the platform preliminaries and failing to qualify in the 1-meter competition earlier, the Purdue junior improved her qualifying score by 50 points and took first at the NCAA Zone C competition from March 14-16, reaching the NCAA championships for the first time in her career.
“It was a relief after two of the three Purdue girls had already made NCAAs,” the Elyria Catholic graduate said. “I really wanted to make it so I could go out with two of the other girls and 75 percent of our team could be represented at the NCAA championships.”
She will compete in the platform and 1-meter at the NCAAs, which begin today and end Saturday. As long as divers qualify in at least one event, they can compete in all events they participated in at the zone meet.
Tweardy finished 21st in the 1-meter competition, missing the cut for the finals, meaning the platform event was her only avenue to the NCAAs. Tweardy took a score of 281.30 into the 18-dive final round, trailing the top-spot by 10.75 points. She rallied for a total score of 612.60, beating her competition by 25 points.
“My prelim score was lower than what I had been doing all season long, but I missed two of my dives pretty badly,” Tweardy said. “One of them I think I got like threes on. I wasn’t too stressed out because I think there was a 20-point gap between third and fourth place, and the top three made the NCAAs.”
Tweardy competed on a much bigger stage last summer: The World University Games. She competed with Minnesota’s Sarah McCrady in the synchronized platform competition and just missed out on a medal — finishing fourth with 266.16 points.
Team USA, however, took silver in the team competition.
Competing on that size of a stage gave Tweardy a mental edge at this year’s zone meet.
“It taught me that just because you don’t dive well at an event it’s not the end of the world,” Tweardy said. “It’s not the biggest meet of your career. At one point I thought high school state was the biggest meet I’d ever hit, but there’s always more to strive towards.”
Tweardy also had to bounce back from a subpar – by her standards – performance at the Big Ten Championships. She missed three of her five dives in the platform competition, but still took third with a score of 307.30.
However, she had a season-best result in the 1-meter competition where she finished fourth with a 329.90. That was a personal-best score and fifth-best in program history.
“I haven’t had a great year on springboard, I’ve been struggling a little bit,” said Tweardy, who also placed 15th in the Big Ten 3-meter competition. “It was a little bit frustrating, but I had been focusing more on platform this year. I was thrilled that in the finals I came through.”
The biomedical engineering major is leaning toward a career in engineering, perhaps even graduate school and a Ph.D. She worked in a research lab in the university’s mechanical engineering department designing football helmets to minimize concussions last summer and fall semester and will resume that research in June after taking this semester off.
Of late, a class focusing on medical devices for the heart is catching her attention, so much so that she’ll go on a two-week internship in Ireland at the end of the school year.
But right now she’s on spring break, and all of her attention is in the pool. The magnitude of the meet doesn’t faze her.
“Just because it consists of higher-caliber divers doesn’t change any of my own training,” Tweardy said. “I’m going to focus on my normal routines that I do every day and just hope that I dive just like I do every day at practice and let everything fall into place from there.”