The moment Nevada Union diving coach William Heinz saw Mikaela Lujan tumbling and bounding around at Gold Country Gymnastics, he knew there was talent there that could translate to the pool.
“The first time I looked at her, I knew she could do any dive with a little bit of time,” Heinz said. “It was clear she could learn anything.”
He was right.
Lujan, who just completed her sophomore year at NU, made the transition from gymnastics two years ago as a freshman and has been a rising star in the sport ever since, winning the 2013 Sac-Joaquin Section diving title and was recently named to the High School Diving All-American team.
“Being an All-American doesn’t change my goals, but it definitely helps my goals,” Lujan said. “That’s something I can put on my college application that’s good for diving scholarships. It kind of just boosts that.”
Lujan is the first varsity diving section champ from NU, and one of just 100 divers in the U.S. to gain the All-American status — one of 16 from California.
When Heinz met Lujan, he was training the NU dive team on the trampoline at Gold Country Gymnastics and had subtly encouraged her to try diving, but at the time, she was a nationally recognized gymnast in the United States Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs.
“(Heinz) always talked to me and would suggest I try diving,” Lujan said of her first encounters with Heinz. “And I was always like, ‘I’m a gymnast. What are you doing?’ But he kept asking me, and finally I went during the summer for two weeks, and I thought it was fun.”
As a freshman, Lujan continued with her gymnastics and also added diving on the NU team to her extracurricular activities, but soon a rash of injuries related to gymnastics forced her to make a tough decision.
She was told by her physical therapist not to compete in any gymnastics events due to her injuries but was allowed to continue diving at the 1-meter level, which is what high school diving competes in.
“I was really upset to hear that,” she said. “It wasn’t that I couldn’t do gym ever again, but I couldn’t do it for a long time, and that was right during the regionals. When I started diving, I started thinking about gym and my injuries and started thinking about not doing it anymore.”
That was when Lujan made the switch from gymnastics to diving full time. She began devoting 20 hours a week to diving, which she still does, even traveling to Stanford once a month to practice her 3-meter and tower dives.
Lujan said that her background in gymnastics is what allowed her to acclimate to diving so quickly.
“Definitely the flipping and acrobatics in diving came easy and was simple to me because of the air awareness I had learned from gym,” she said. “The board work is way different because in diving, the board moves but, in gymnastics, nothing moves. That was something I really had to get used to. But platform diving is a lot like gymnastics because it’s just a hard surface.”
By her sophomore year, Lujan was impressing at every meet and winning handily.
“I have never seen anyone go so far and so quickly,” Heinz said. “Physically and mentally, she has no shortcomings.”
Heinz would know. He has been a diving coach for a decade, and as a collegiate diver at Princeton, he placed second at the 1974 national championships.
At this year’s section title meet, Lujan beat out a pair of vaunted seniors, Amy Crayne and Shelbie Holden, who had dominated the section the previous three years.
“There were two really good divers that have traded off winning almost everything the last couple of years, and Mikaela was able to beat them,” Heinz said.
Crayne, of St. Francis, had won the section title the year before and as a freshman in 2010.
Now the reigning dive champ in the section, Lujan said she will continue to work hard to defend her title but knows that the competition will be different in 2014 and pose new challenges.
“A lot of my competition has graduated,” she said. “The top two divers that I was really competing against this year are gone, so junior year, I would like to again qualify for All-American, but that’s hit or miss, and I would also like to keep my section champion title.”
Lujan said she does have aspirations of possibly being an Olympian, but that would come after college.
“Of course everybody dreams about it,” Lujan said of being an Olympian. “But I definitely think college is a really good idea and is the right way to go, and if that takes me to somewhere bigger, that would be awesome. But definitely just getting into a good college with a diving scholarship in Division I would be good.”
Lujan, who boasts a 4.167 GPA, said she is currently interested in UCLA and the University of Colorado, Denver, which both have prominent diving programs.
Lujan will continue diving throughout the summer as a member of a club team, competing next at the USA Diving Zone E championships July 12-14 in Pasadena. Lujan had to finish in the top 15 in each event in the USA diving region 10 championships, which she competed in two weeks ago in Beaverton, Ore., in order to qualify for the zone meet. She finished fourth on platform, fifth on 1-meter and 11th on 3-meter.
If she finishes in the top 12 at the zone meet in Pasadena, she then goes to the national championships in Minnesota the end of July and into August.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.