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UK divers pushing through pain heading into SEC Championships

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 Junior diver Greg Ferrucci will return to the boards at the 2013 SEC Championships while dealing with torn ligaments in his thumb. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Junior diver Greg Ferrucci will return to the boards at the 2013 SEC Championships while dealing with torn ligaments in his thumb. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It's been a banner year for Kentucky diving. The Wildcats have racked up wins at an incredible pace, posting 18 combined individual wins from the men and women competitors out of a possible 32 events.

Ted Hautau took over the UK diving program in the 2008-09 season and had only two divers in the program. Since that time, Hautau has rebuilt the program from the ground up, currently has 10 divers on his roster and is looking for his athletes to make a splash on the national scene.

Last season, Hautau tailored his training regimen to allow for his athletes to be in prime condition at the 2012 Southeastern Conference Championships. After the success his team has had so far this season, Hautau has tweaked his plans for 2013.

"We're not exactly tapering for SECs," said Hautau. "We're shooting for NCAAs. I just told the team early on before the season that we're going to train through SECs. That doesn't mean I don't think we can perform well there; they perform well every week. So I expect they'll do well at this meet."

The Wildcats will receive a huge boost as the 2013 SEC Championships will mark the return of All-SEC performer junior Greg Ferrucci. A six-time SEC Diver of the Week winner including twice this season, Ferrucci was limited by a thumb injury heading into the Louisville meet. He was then held out of competition in the final dual meet of the season at Cincinnati.

With eight individual wins prior to the injury, Ferrucci left a big hole in the diving lineup. Kentucky's depth, however, was more than enough to make up for Ferrucci's absence. UK got strong performances from Corey Cowger, Zachary Zandona and junior captain John Fox, who all earned victories in Ferrucci's stead.

"He's a little bit of the engine of our program in the sense that everyone gets excited and he's a phenomenal diver," said Hautau of Ferrucci. "He's always great in big meets, and just having him back is a relief for him and fun for everybody else. Obviously from a points standpoint, he was the high scorer on the whole team."

Though Ferrucci will be back in competition, it's been nearly a month and a half since he dove at full strength. Ferrucci will be forced to dive through the pain this week, so he'll have to battle through the it if he hopes to get back to his winning ways at the SEC Championships. The time off, however, may have given him a chance to improve in other areas.

"His thumb, it is what it is," said Hautau. "He's going to have to tape it up and it might hurt a little bit. He's really strong right now, he's getting his air awareness back, so we'll see where he's at (this) week."

Fox - described by Hautau and his teammates as the heart and soul of the diving team - was a key component in holding the divers intact while Ferrucci healed. But Fox knows the importance of his teammate to the overall team's success moving forward.

"It's good to have him back," said Fox of Ferrucci. "I don't think it necessarily takes any pressure off the team, but having him around is great because he's incredibly talented and he just brings us up as a team, like our competitive level and everything."

With the whole unit finally back on the boards, Kentucky will have the opportunity to compete against top-notch competition before Zone Diving qualifying in March. The SEC Championships is just another opportunity for UK to really show who the best of the best is.

"The SEC environment is different than any other meet we go to," said Fox. "It's extremely competitive. The talent in our conference is amazing, so competing against those athletes is pretty special."

Though Kentucky expects to do well this week in Texas, they are more worried about being in top form for the Zone Diving event to qualify for the NCAA Championships

Last season, Ferrucci was the lone diver from UK to make it to the NCAAs. This season, UK will be training throughout its time at the SEC Championships with the hopes of qualifying a few more athletes for NCAAs. While that might make success difficult to come by this week, it will allow the Cats to be at full strength when the Zone Diving qualifying meet rolls around.

"I've decided as a program that we've got some depth on our team, we've got talent, they all kind of push each other, so we're at the point now that we're going to start grooming and shooting for NCAAs as a program and putting multiple kids there," said Hautau. "We've got a good shot this year to get more kids into NCAAs. So we're trending in the right direction."

Though the plans have changed this year, UK divers are looking forward to the challenge. Training through an event instead of preparing up to it makes a big difference physically. If UK can get over that hump mentally, the Cats can still enjoy success at the SECs while preparing for NCAA qualifying at the same time.

"It makes it difficult, but you just have to rely on your meet adrenaline," said Fox. "When you've got that going, you don't really feel anything in your body. It's more of a psychological thing. If you can just forget about it and go out there and trick yourself into thinking that you're feeling really good, you tend to dive pretty well. I don't think it's going to affect us too much. It will ensure that we peak at the right time at the end of the season."

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