By Amy Rutledge
Nikki Craft, a Bay Village native and three-time state champion from Bay High School, recently captured first-place in the 3-meter board competition for Miami University (Ohio) at the Mid-American Conference championships. This makes Craft the ninth diver to win a MAC championship at Miami.
“It’s different. It doesn’t feel like a high school championship,” Craft said. “In college you have a much larger team. I’m on a team of over 40 girls, so when you a championship you’re not just winning an individual title, you’re winning for your team, and supplying your team with the points to win the championship as a whole. Individually, it was really good. I immediately started crying when I won. I was surprised.”
Craft also finished in third-place in the 1-meter diving competition. She has also been selected as first team All-MAC, MAC Diver of the Year and athlete of the week for Miami University. During her freshman year, she was second-team all-MAC and was the No. 1 qualifier on the 3-meter board in the preliminaries. In addition to her athletic achievements, Craft was also named to the dean’s list both semesters her freshman year.
The championship comes after a significant injury her first year. In November of her freshman year, Craft lost her legs when she was spinning in a dive and fractured her back in two places. As a result, she had to sit part of the season out and do physical therapy. Craft was able to return to diving just three weeks before the MAC championship, where she placed second in the 1-meter and sixth in the 3-meter.
Craft has mixed emotions on her injury and recovery.
“I was excited,” she said. “This was the first year I was fully prepared and recovered so I was feeling like I had a chance of winning this year. I was nervous when we got to the events and had to perform because everyone knew I was injured so I was like the underdog coming back. Competition this year was a lot harder this year than it was last year. This year we were all fighting to get into the finals.”
Craft has been diving for 15 years. She credits a lot of her success, especially her ability to be at a Division I school, to her coach Jeff Arnold, whom she’s been working with since she was nine years old.
“Overall I think my coaches had an impact on my career,” she said. “I practiced with him (Jeff Arnold) seven days a week for two to four hours a day. I was constantly training during my high school career.”
The transition from high school to college has been big by having to balance classes, homework, practice and a social life, but Craft said in regards to competition the bar has been set much higher.
“In college you can’t expect anything,” she said. “You just have to go in and show them what you got and your outcome is whatever it is. In high school I was undefeated and I had full records and it wasn’t as competitive. I kind of pulled away with my scores after a while and sometimes I would win by 200 points. In college diving I won my preliminary event by one point so everyone is right there nipping at your heels to get that championship.”
She set a new personal record by scoring 334.05 points from six dives on the 3-meter board. With a championship under her belt, and still two more years of college diving ahead of her, Craft has plenty of time to leave a legacy at Miami.
“Setting my new personal record was a surprise,” she said. “I had no idea until they announced it as I was walking up to the podium. I want to up my degree of difficulty on my dives. I want to win both prelims and finals on both boards.”
Despite all of her individual accomplishments, Craft said the best part of college athletics is support from her teammates.
“I never had such great support from a team,” she said. “After I won, all of my teammates just surrounded me. Being a part of a team is more than worrying about yourself as an individual. I don’t think I could have won my championship without my team and my family.”
Craft will travel to Indiana University this week to compete at the NCAA Zones on Thursday and Friday. If she qualifies she will advance to nationals.