Lederhouse Natatorium is not only home to Wheaton’s men’s and women’s swim teams this year—it’s also home to a one-man diving team. Sophomore Jack Ryken committed to the 2020-2021 Division III season without any previous diving experience, or a diving coach, but Head Swim Coach Jacob Ayers is hopeful Ryken can make a difference for the Thunder in conference championships to come.
Head Swim Coach Jacob Ayers ‘97 described the swim team’s 2020 CCIW second place performance as a “moral victory.” Despite winning the swim portion of the meet, the Thunder lost the overall conference swimming and diving total on February 22nd because they did not have a diving team.
Carthage College, who boasted three divers, gained valuable points through the diving portion which proved to be the difference at the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) Championship.
“We definitely out-performed Carthage and our team knew it and the rest of the conference knew it,” said Ayers. “We knew going into it that we would be down because of the significant difference [without diving points.] To actually win the swim meet was a real victory.”
After hearing about the point deficit that led to the Thunder not gaining an overall victory, Jack Ryken, who was a freshman at the time, started to consider the possibility of diving at Wheaton.
Although the idea was originally pitched to Ryken as a joke, he took it seriously. “It was just always in my head because I love to compete,” said Ryken, who played five sports in high school. “I love sports more than anything and I was never good enough at any of them to play at the college level, so hearing that there was one that I could maybe learn got me excited.”
After considering the possibility of joining the team, Ryken emailed Ayers in the spring of 2020. Due to COVID-19, the two couldn’t meet in person and instead set up a phone call to discuss Ryken’s questions.
Ryken, who at the time was working on a farm in Galena, Ill., didn’t have adequate service to answer the call.
“When I realized [I didn’t have service] I quickly hopped on an ATV and drove to the top of a hill so I could talk to him,” said Ryken. “It was on that call that I knew I wanted to be a part of the team. He really encouraged me to go for it.”
Ryken immediately started training in diving, learning the unique nuances of the sport, along with the different dives he would be challenged to compete in come swim season.
In the CCIW, there are two types of competitions for diving. Divers can compete on either the one-meter board or the three-meter board. On the boards, athletes must have 11 different types of dives for competitions, in which there are five categories: front, back, reverse, twisters and inward dives.
“He worked really hard [over the summer,]” said Ayers. “He had maybe 4 or 5 legitimate dives by the time we started and has even more now, which is really impressive for a true novice diver.”
Ryken credits his improvement to his coach and longtime friend, Chris Haase. Haase, a Junior Christian Formation and Ministry major, dove his freshman year before leaving the team due to injuries.
Haase, whose father serves as an assistant lecturer for Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton, and Ryken, whose father serves as the college’s president, began diving together as children for fun. What was a sport for Haase was more of a pastime for Ryken.
Ryken told Haase he was considering diving for Wheaton, and since the Wheaton diving coach had left two years ago, Haase stepped in to coach Ryken.
“I told him to go for it,” said Haase. “It has been a learning curve and he’s had to take a step back to transfer all the tricks from the trampoline onto the board, but he’s been doing super well.”
In preparation for his first CCIW season, Ryken began sharpening his diving skills with drills on a trampoline. He’s also drawn on the focus he’s developed through other athletic experiences.
“In golf, you have to be really committed in your head before you set out to do it, and the same thing goes with diving,” said Ryken. “Whenever I’m on the end of the board, I do a mental rep of the trick before I physically practice it, so the mental aspect is really, really similar.”
Still on his way to boasting 11 dives, Ryken continues to work hard, putting in roughly ten hours of training a week. With competition postponed due to COVID-19, Ryken gets more time to prepare in hopes of a season to come.
“[This time] gives him the chance to take his time and learn during a period of time where there’s just no pressure and he can learn at his own pace,” said Ayers.
Another benefit of the time without competition has been Ryken having the opportunity to practice with the team in the Lederhouse Nataorium. Traditionally, divers have had to practice at separate hours due to women and men swimmers practicing together and filling all of the pool lanes. Due to COVID-19, the men and women practices are now separate, giving Ryken space to dive during practices.
“I’ve been super excited with the relationships I’ve formed on the team in such a short time,” said Ryken. “One of the things I love most about being on a competitive team is forming those relationships with teammates.”