By Zach Carter
Sam Bennett is hanging out with family when he receives a text message from a girl he knows through diving. He reads the message and is perplexed that she is sending her condolences about Bennett’s dive program at the University of Iowa. Soon after, he finds out what she means.
On Aug. 21, 2020, the University of Iowa cancelled four sports. One was their dive program.
“It was heartbreaking,” Bennett said.
Just two months before, he had committed to Iowa, where the 2020 Indiana high school state diving champion planned to continue his diving career.
One of the reasons it was so hard for Bennett to start over was because of the difficulty of the recruiting process.
“The recruiting process is no joke,” he said. ‘“It is so hard. I said at the beginning that I wanted to take my time to make sure I made the right decision.“
Iowa’s dive coach, Todd Waikel, was the one who confirmed the news. Bennett said the coach was one of the reasons he chose Iowa, saying that Waikel was an “amazing guy” and a “great coach.”
After letting the news sink in, Bennett was back in the recruiting process.
“When I was talking to Todd, he said to call the last two colleges that you talked to before Iowa, and he asked if I wanted him to reach out to any colleges. He reached out to Purdue,” Bennett said.
At first Bennett did not choose Purdue because of the number of divers who had committed there.
“There were two guys that committed fast,” he said. “‘It kind of startled me. The two guys that committed, about a month after they committed, both won an event at the Pan American Games.”
After speaking again with Purdue Coach Adam Soldati, Bennett committed to the Boilermakers.
Soldati has been a USA Olympic diving coach since 2008. Since 2012, he has helped two divers to win five Olympic medals.
Bennett will have some competition at Purdue, but he said he does not fear it.
“The only way you become the best is to train with the best,” he said. “If you are training with people that are not of your caliber, then that is how you will stay. Athletes in any sport build off of each other.”
With the pandemic messing up sports routines, the road for Bennett has been rough. Training has been the main issue.
“It was a real middle finger to anybody that did a sport,” he said. “‘Like all the other sports, the facilities were closed for months. A week off from diving, it is a muscle memory sport, it is also so detailed. Just missing a couple practices takes so much detail away from your diving. So imagine three months of that.”
Bennett also dives for a club, the Indiana International School Of Diving, outside of school. For them to practice, they had to use some different techniques. For about six months, they used a dry board, which is basically a board above a high jump pit or a foam pit. One of the parents was a manager at a public pool, which the club eventually got access to for training.
“They painted dolphins on the concrete that were six feet apart,” Bennett said. “‘We had to stand on those in between dives.”
Through the process of switching colleges and dealing with training changes, Bennett has learned something.
“If you are able to persevere when things look like they are gonna hit the fan, if you can push through that, it will pay off,” he said.