Murrysville diver Pickens springs into spot on U.S. team for World Championships
Samantha Pickens kept the thought of making the United States team for this summer's World Championships out of her mind for most of the early stages at last week's world team trials in Tallahassee, Fla.
As she prepared to make her final dive in the 1-meter competition, however, the Murrysville native let herself consider the possibility.
“I knew I could do my last dive well enough to be a part of the world team,” she said.
The confidence was well-founded. Pickens finished with a total score of 537.00 on her 1-meter dives, earning one of two spots on the U.S. team for the 2013 FINA World Championships.
Pickens was in second place after the preliminary round of the 1-meter dive at the world trials, but she scored highly in the finals, surmounting Deidre Freeman to take the top spot. Freeman secured the second bid for the World Championships, which will take place from July 19-Aug. 14 in Barcelona, Spain.
“It was really, really exciting,” said Pickens, a senior-to-be at the University of Arizona. “Going into it, I had an idea that I was capable of qualifying. But when it actually happens, you're kind of just stunned. It didn't hit me until a few hours after the meet.”
After qualifying in the 1-meter last Wednesday, Pickens wasn't finished. She earned a spot on the U.S. 3-meter synchronized diving team on Sunday, pairing with Amanda Burke of the Mason Dive Academy for a score of 599.55.
Pickens, whose bid to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team ended in the final round at the Olympic Trials last June, said she began to feel confident in her ability to compete for the worlds team after she won the 1-meter competition at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships in March.
That confidence increased when she made the finals at the FINA Canada Cup, her first-ever international competition, earlier this month.
“(Making the finals) wasn't unexpected, but I really didn't go into my first international meet thinking I was going to be a finalist,” she said. “Then, when I did, things started to come together and I started to realize I'm good enough to be on this big stage with all these girls.
“I could just hear Barcelona.”
While Pickens felt confident in her ability to compete and earn a spot in the 1-meter dive, she didn't know what to expect in the 3-meter synchronized competition. Burke typically competes with a different partner, and Pickens had never done the event.
Pickens said she and Burke went through “maybe three days of training” in Tucson, Ariz., before last weekend's competition.
“We didn't really expect to qualify,” Pickens said. “There was another team that was really gunning for Barcelona, and we were the team going up there and having fun. But after the first day, we looked at each other (and said), ‘All right, we've got a good shot at qualifying.' When we realized we were going to Barcelona together, it was just awesome.”
While she didn't make the world team in a third event, the 3-meter dive, Pickens did qualify for the World University Games in both 1-meter and 3-meter diving. The World University Games will take place in Kazan, Russia, from July 6-17.
With the World University Games and World Championships mere weeks away, Pickens said she would spend much of June getting ready for both competitions. She plans to leave for Russia in early July.
“I'm going to be gone (for a month) doing something that I love to do,” she said. “So I'm just so excited, and I'm just looking forward to it.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.