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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Casey Ponton is a one-man show

Courtesy Stan Liu
Freshman Casey Ponton

Six years ago, a middle school kid was playing soccer for his local team, wondering if he had a future as a soccer player. Going into seventh grade, Casey Ponton made a decision that would change his life: He would quit playing soccer and pursue another sport.

Today, Ponton is diving at the collegiate level for the UA, and his diving experience is different from most collegiate divers. Ponton is the only male diver on the Arizona team.

Ponton was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and moved to Houston, where he started playing soccer. After a few years of playing, Ponton knew he had to try something new.

“I was a soccer player for a while, and that really wasn’t quite working out the way I wanted it to,” Ponton said. “In about seventh grade, I had a friend that was a diver. He was a bit older than me, but he kind of dragged me out to it. He was like ‘come give it try, come give it a try.’”

Ponton decided to go out with his friend and give diving a chance, which would prove to be a decision that would change his life.

“My mom was always a swimmer, and she was trying to get me to swim,” Ponton continued. “I just said, ‘no, that’s just not for me,’ and I went out, gave diving a try and it was pretty fun.”

The friend who showed Ponton the ropes in the water is Colton Haffey, a current swimmer on the Texas A&M dive team. Both athletes grew up in the Houston area and are diving at the collegiate level. Unlike Haffey, Ponton can say that he is the only male diver for his entire college.

Being the only male diver for a team presents Ponton with a lot of challenges. Expectations are very high and his room for failure is small. He said that it has its advantages and disadvantages.

“A disadvantage would be, kind of just [not having] a training partner­—someone to bump heads with, someone to push around, someone to keep you motivated on certain days,” Ponton said.

Having a training partner is something that Ponton has never had to deal with before, as he has had a partner to motivate him his entire life.

“I think the guy that has influenced me the most I’d say … is Josh Davidson, and he’s actually a year younger than me,” Ponton explained. “He just signed to go dive at Florida State University, but he’s always been my partner in crime in diving, and he’s probably the reason why I’ve stayed in it. He’s always been just a little bit better than me, so he pushed and pushed me, and we’ve always kind of competed in practice.”

With Haffey and Davidson, Ponton has always had people to push him and make him better. Without another guy in practice to motivate him, Ponton has had to find other ways to motivate himself. 

One way Ponton stays driven is remembering the team of people supporting him, including his No. 1 fan: his mom.

“My No. 1 supporter is for sure my mom,” Ponton said. “I figured that’s pretty standard, but yeah, she’s definitely my biggest supporter.”

Ponton’s mom was a very successful athlete on the other end of the pool as a swimmer, which presented a unique challenge for him.

“You know, at times she can be overly supportive,” Ponton admitted. “At times, early on, I would be like, ‘Mom, you don’t know much about diving, you only know anything about swimming.’ So, I had to tell her like ‘just tell me to point my toes and just be my biggest fan,’ so that’s the way it works. She loves coming out here to Tucson to see me dive … and she’s so supportive and wants me to enjoy it. As long as I’m having fun, she’s happy.”

Just like any other incoming freshman, Ponton had a big decision to make after his senior year of high school: What comes next? With so many options, Ponton turned his attention to the UA to continue his diving career.

“I loved Tucson—wonderful weather and just a happy place to be,” Ponton said. “I really liked the coach [dive coach Omar Ojeda]. Coaching was a big part of me coming here; he’s one of the top coaches in the country. And I think he’s one of the top coaches in the world for sure. He’s a very tough coach, but he’s very knowledgeable.”

Ojeda, has been the head coach for Arizona since 2011. Just like Ponton, Ojeda began his diving career at the UA and is one of the most successful divers in school history. Ojeda was a five-time NCAA All-American and a two-time Pac-10 Athlete of the Year. Three years before his hire, Ojeda was inducted in to the UA Hall of Fame.

Ponton has nothing but high praise about his current head coach.

“He’s very knowledgeable; you can trust him, and that was a big reason I came here,” Ponton said. “He believes I have a lot of potential, and I do as well. He saw that potential, and that’s something that I picked up on. He told me, ‘You have so much potential to improve, and I can help you improve.’ To me, that was a big thing. There’s a lot of divers that will go to college and just stay stagnant, and that wasn’t a situation I wanted to be in.”

Working with Ojeda has done wonders for Ponton’s freshman year, as he has shown improvement in every meet he has competed in since November. Ponton has set his career highs in points in the team’s last meet against ASU, where he finished with a score of 283.43 in the one meter and 343.95 in the three meter.

As for being the only male on the diving team, Ponton continues to stay positive, and it has not impacted his results at all. Ponton said that his coach and his teammates are two of the biggest advantages.

“I get a lot of one-on-one time with my coach, and that’s a big advantage for sure. It helps you stay focused and prioritized,” Ponton said. “Sometimes the girls drive me crazy a bit, but that’s alright. I love the girls to death; it definitely wouldn’t be the same without them.”

Ponton hopes he will continue to grow and improve as a diver as he spends more time with Ojeda. If Ponton can have similar successes to Ojeda, the Arizona dive team is in good hands. 

Follow Varun Iyer on Twitter

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