Justin Sodokoff ’21 awaits final season after cancellation of NCAA diving championship

by Will Ennis and Jaime Chuidian | 5/15/20 2:05am

justin_sodokoff
Source: Courtesy of Justin Sodokoff '21

Even before coming up for air after his final dive off the 1-meter board in the NCAA Zone A Diving Championship, Justin Sodokoff ’21 knew he’d made it to the national championship.

“I've been diving for so long that the second I hit the water, I know what I'm probably going to get and if it was good,” Sodokoff said. “So, when I'm under the water, after I knew I did enough to save my second-place spot, I screamed, under the water, because I knew no one could hear me. I screamed and I threw a couple punches.”

That second-place finish — with a score of 672.35 — qualified Sodokoff for the NCAA Division I National Diving Championship, a capstone on a tremendous individual season that earned him College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America All-American honors on both the 1-meter and 3-meter boards. He also finished sixth on the 3-meter board at the meet with a score of 683.60, missing fifth place and a qualification on that board by just five points, according to head coach Chris Hamilton.

Sodkoff’s highlights from this season also included setting new school and pool records for both boards — 386.55 on the 1-meter and 392.50 on the 3-meter — and earning the Ron Keenhold Outstanding Diver Award.

Hamilton pointed to Sodokoff’s preparation for the season as the reason for his success.

“It started last year, after Ivy championships,” Hamilton said. “He got into the weight room, worked out, probably put on about 20 pounds of muscle. He got much bigger than he was.”

According to Hamilton, Sodokoff’s mental growth was just as important as his physical growth.

“I think he matured a great deal over the last year, and I think he just figured things out in his own head,” Hamilton said. “He has all of the physical talents, but once you get that mental part into it, it takes you to the next level.”

Sodokoff’s outstanding season, however, did not come without adversity. A disappointing finish at the Ivy League championship was the first setback.

“This year's Ivy League championship, from top to bottom, was a disappointment,” Sodokoff said. “I went in ranked first on both boards. I felt confident, felt like I was exactly where I needed to be to finish the job, and that's just not how it went. I don't know if it was the nerves or I was trying to do too much, but I underperformed and it hurt.”

Sodokoff finished fourth on the 1-meter and seventh on the 3-meter.

After rebounding from that performance by earning an NCAA qualification, however, Sodokoff was unable to compete in the NCAA championship. The COVID-19 pandemic forced its cancellation, along with all other NCAA winter championships and spring seasons.

“[Hamilton] gave me a call, and we were kind of just speechless,” Sodokoff said. “It was kind of heart-wrenching, but it is what it is, and we were going to fight to get back there regardless, so now we'll just have to make it next year.”

Trying to put his disappointment in the rearview mirror, Sodokoff pointed to his team’s focus approaching each practice as the driving force that will help him do exactly that.

“How we're going to get there is how we attacked last year and the year before,” he said. “Put your head down and keep working. Doesn't matter what tries to push you down or what kind of adversity you face, you just put your head down and you keep grinding.”

Jonathan Hu ’23, a fellow diver said that Sodokoff was fundamental to the team’s growth.

“Honestly, [Sodokoff] was a great teammate,” Hu said. “He played a really supportive role in the development of freshmen. He kept us motivated every day. At times when we weren’t really motivated, [Sodokoff] reminded us that we aren’t just diving to get better for ourselves, but for our entire team.”

There is no doubt that both chemistry and training environment are essential to an individual and team’s success. Hu noted that Sodokoff was not only a good teammate, but also a committed diver. 

“He kind of had that ‘beast mode’ mentality.” Hu said. “He’s definitely motivated me even more, especially because diving is really a mental sport.” 

Even though the team and Sodokoff’s season didn’t end the way he had hoped, Sodokoff plans to use the unfortunate circumstances that ended this season as motivation for the next one.

“I mean, I'm going to get back there next year,” Sodokoff said. “It lit a flame under me, and I'm going to do everything that I can to repeat and get back there … I want to be able to go out there on the biggest stage and show what I've got.”

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