Examiner Athlete of the Autumn: Diver Jennifer Bell

Bell posed in UVA garb to announce her commitment.

The SAT, the ACT, and what looks good on college applications seems to be the focus of many high school students. So being accepted and part of a school’s diving team halfway through senior year should be a bit of a relief. But it doesn’t mean everything is completed. For athletes like Jennifer Bell, the years of hard work, preparation, and networking that it takes to get signed with a school could be torn down if their grades don’t stay high throughout all of senior year.

Jennifer started diving around the 4th grade, “I was really bad in the beginning, I didn’t dive in any of the meets, but [the next year] I tried and they let me compete once… they told me I should try to keep going.” And keep going she did, signing up for a team at Fordham and then moving to a Purchase team. “That’s where I’ve been for the last 7 years.”

Bell joined the PMHS varsity diving team in 7th grade since there was no modified diving team. She expected to be the only one but remarked that half of the diving team is in the 9th, 8th, or 7th grade. Add four years of practice and it was time to start reaching out to coaches at potential colleges.

“You realize that you’ve been doing something for six or seven years competitively and now is the time when you have to focus on where you want to go, and all of that lead up to this point,” Bell said.

It takes a certain mentality to be able to perfect diving. “My big thing is positivity and confidence, a lot of the time when people ask me how I’m going to do performance-wise – I think positively,” Bell said. “I always say I’m not cocky, I’m confident, and I believe in positive affirmations. If somebody asks you if you’re going to hit this dive or not, you say, ‘Yes, I am.'”

Bell isn’t one to get anxious before a competition. “I’m very competitive – I enjoy competition, and I do better in competitions than I do in practice” but for the occasional butterflies, “I say ‘I can do it, this is what I do well’.”

Positive affirmation paid off when Jennifer started emailing coaches at schools she was interested in. “Of the 26, 18 responded,” From there it was a matter of narrowing the options down, just like anyone else’s college path. “I knew I wanted to try to commit as early as possible, but I also knew a lot of schools did not want to do that.” She managed to find the right fit with the University of Virginia “They had just gotten a new flush of coaches, particularly for the swim team and they wanted to start everything super early. When they said that – I knew that was what I wanted.”

Bell has not been on this journey alone. “I have people that have told me things that have stuck with me, and that’s why I look up to them,” she said.

“My coach (Mike Darland) (is) very relaxed, easygoing, but still wants us to work hard,” Bell said. “He’s the kind of person that in a meet will say ‘Oh, you do this dive so well there’s no reason for you to be nervous about it’. His mentality towards the sport and towards people is something I look up to.”

Another coach who provided lasting words for Bell is Dick Kimbal “He’s the kind of person who says, you don’t need to practice a thousand dives a day, you need to practice one of each of your dives.”

Bell signed with the University of Virginia for Division 1 diving in November, so unlike many of her peers, she is not worried about getting accepted to a school. The focus now shifts to academics, “People joke that I’m done, and I am done applying. I don’t have to worry about getting into a school, my stress was on six years of having to perform and look good in front of college coaches, keep my grades up like everyone else, and get denied or accepted by a coach, not by a school.”

But being accepted does not mean she gets to kick back. “I keep getting texts from the head swim coach at UVA saying ‘make sure you keep your grades up.’ He wants very specific things for my recruiting class before they get to UVA.” So until graduation Bell will continue with a positive attitude.