April 23, 2019 | 61° F

Strong finish caps Saunders' career

Heading into her fourth and final Zone A Diving Championship, senior co-captain of the Rutgers swimming and diving team Erin Saunders felt she was peaking at the right time. Judging by last weekend's results, she was correct.

Saunders racked up 550.20 points to post a career-best sixth place finish in the three-meter dive and matched her 2007 showing in the one-meter, placing fifth with 528.60 points.

"It was good to see the improvement there," said Saunders. "Every other year I went into Zones and I was tired or I was hurt and this year it was just really exciting. I wasn't tired, I wasn't sore, there was nothing keeping me from doing well so I just let myself go and it was great."

Amanda Burke of Rider tallied 672.30 points to take top honors on the three-meter board and narrowly missed out on adding the one-meter title to her résumé, finishing seven points behind Meili Carpenter of Buffalo. The two headlined a strong field that expanded to include divers from competing institutions in Maryland and Virginia for the first time.

Despite the depth of the field, Saunders made a strong bid to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Needing to place sixth or better to earn an invite to the Championships, she finished 10th out of 43 divers.

"She dove tough," Rutgers diving coach Fred Woodruff said of Saunders. "She made some errors, but that's life. She had a good last meet and I was happy she could put together a nice weekend. She competed very well. Unfortunately, she kind of fell a little bit short of getting to Purdue, [host of the NCAAs,] but she had some great competition too. "

Competing on her home boards in her final college event made the experience all the more enjoyable for Saunders. Teammates, family and friends were all in attendance at the Rutgers Aquatics Center to root on the Holmes, Pa., native.

"I wasn't stressed out about it," Saunders said of diving in front of her home crowd. "After I dove prelims, in both events, I just had this calmness come over me and it was cool because it was the finals and that's when I dove my best."

Saunders was also able to block out the distraction that goes with the realization of the end of her Knights career — even if it has yet to fully register.

"During the meet, it started to hit me a little bit and I think that's when I relaxed and kind of got that calm feeling," she said. "Immediately afterwards, I was upset but I don't think it will fully hit me until next week when the other girls are going back to practice and I don't have to."

Junior Jen Betz and freshman Katie Kearney return to lead the Knights' divers next season, but Woodruff made no bones about it — Saunders will be missed.

"I'm going to miss her like crazy," said Woodruff. "She's a great person. Regardless of the diving, she's really a pleasure to coach, to go to practice every day and have her there and just to talk about things that have nothing to do with diving. She was definitely dedicated. She led by example as well as in word. She's really a hard person to replace."

Kevin O'Rourke

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