Kristen Brimage, a 2009 Yosemite High School graduate, completed her college diving career March 7 the way she planned - winning both the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National 1-and 3-meter diving titles.
Diving for the independent Oklahoma Baptist University, a liberal arts school in Shawnee, Brimage duplicated what she did last year - giving her a total of four national diving championships.
She won the 1 meter competition with a score of 248.85, beating her teammate Tara Dewall, and the 3 meter with a score of 222.50, with second place going to Michelle McDonald from the University of the Cumberlands.
"It was exciting to see all my past hard work and training, including many years in gymnastics, pay-off to accomplish my goal of winning nationals," Brimage said. "I was confident going in this year, but I didn't underestimate my competition either."
Gymnastics came first
The 5-foot-6 Brimage started gymnastics at age 10, long before she even thought about diving. She was the only gymnast at Yosemite, representing the school at meets while training at a gymnastic club in Madera. As a high school sophomore, she was the all-around gymnast in a meet against Clovis West, Central, Roosevelt, Dos Palos, Liberty, Madera, and Madera South.
It was not till her senior year at YHS that she decided to take up diving.
"I thought I'd give diving a try to occupy my time," Brimage understated.
In her first year in the sport she won the North Sequoia League diving title and placed in the top 10 at the CIF Central Section Championships.
Although Brimage only dove for Yosemite one year, swim coach Brandon Brokaw and volunteer diving coach Sally West remember her well.
"She was incredible," Brokaw said.
"She brought all that gymnastic talent to the diving board and really crushed the competition all season long," West said. "She was a very focused and determined young lady. She still holds the Yosemite High School record for total points in the six dive events on the 1 meter board including back, reverse, inward, and twisting dives.
It was then off to Cuesta Junior College in San Luis Opisbo where she won the 2012 state junior college diving title in the 1 meter in her sophomore year in Los Angeles.
Off to Oklahoma Baptist University
Oklahoma Baptist University swim coach Sam Freas was at the California Community College Championships two years ago and had a brief talk with Brimage about attending OBU.
"I spoke with Coach Freas a few times over the summer before making my decision to go to OBU," Brimage said. "He truly cares about every athlete and for our futures, not just our athletic performances. I came to OBU because I felt that they truly wanted me to be a part of their team."
"Kristen is a very special person ... I met her at the community college championships and knew she had special qualities," Freas said. "She is beautiful as a person and as a diver a perfectionist who never believes she does well, which is not uncommon for great athletes. Kristen is an Academic All American and will do well in her graduate endeavors or in anything she chooses to pursue. I admire her humble and kind spirit and her work ethic. I only wish she were going to be around OBU a few more years."
During the swim season, Brimage attended 6 a.m. conditioning sessions (running and weights) for an hour and then one to two hour practice sessions in the afternoon, five days a week.
OBU dive coach Lindsey Gunderson called Brimage an incredibly talented athlete who works very hard to achieve her standard of success. Gunderson feels Brimage's strongest assets as an athlete are her attention to detail and her work ethic.
"I've been fortunate to watch her grow as an athlete, and if her performance in her sport is any indication of her future in life, I know she will do great things," Gunderson said. "Becoming a four-time national champion is no small feat, and I am so proud to have gotten the opportunity to watch Kristen reach the pinnacle of her sport."
She is majoring in family and community service and will graduate this spring, before retuning home to Ahwahnee for the summer. About half of her tuition at OBU was paid through athletic and academic scholarships valued at about $25,000 for her two years there.
"I was truly blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of the Bison swim and dive team," Brimage said. "This is a very special team and I love everyone on the team I will miss this very much after graduation."
Oklahoma Baptist swimmers won 12-of-15 event titles and set five new national records at the NAIA Men's and Women's Swimming & Diving National Championships. The Bison men were crowned champion in six swimming events, while the women claimed five swimming titles and Brimage's two diving titles.
The men's team has won three consecutive NAIA titles - strong bragging rights for a school that started its swim program three seasons ago. The Lady Bisons won its second consecutive NAIA national title.
Daniel Ramirez won two individual titles and set two records. The first came in the 100 yard butterfly with a time of 46.13. He also took the 100 yard backstroke in an NAIA record time of 46.28.
The women's team started off the meet with a new record in the women's 200 yard freestyle relay with a time of 1:32.15.
The women's 200 free was won by Laura Galarza in 1:50.18, and Kerryn Mullin took the national championship in the 100 breaststroke in 1:04.29.