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'You just have to be you': UNC diver Aranza Vazquez earns triple crown in ACC Championship meet

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UNC junior diver Aranza Vazquez wears her three gold medals on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. Vazquez earned the triple crown during the 2023 ACC Swimming and Diving Championships.

When she came to UNC in 2020 from her home country of Mexico, junior diver Aranza Vazquez knew only one person: head diving coach Yaidel Gamboa. From the time she was recruited to dive at the collegiate level, Vazquez and Gamboa have always been close. 

During Vazquez's first conversations with Gamboa, he was the head diving coach at the University of Missouri. When he came to Chapel Hill in July 2019, Vazquez changed her plans to accompany him at UNC. 

Gamboa has seen tremendous development in Vazquez as a diver since they met during her UNC recruiting visit. Gamboa attributes this growth to her understanding of his coaching philosophy and ability to act on constructive criticism.

Now, that development has paid off: Vazquez wore three gold medals around her neck at the ACC Championship meet in Greensboro.

The journey to that ACC Championship triple crown — the first for any UNC diver since 2008 — was anything but linear.

At the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Vazquez became one of two Tar Heel divers to ever compete at the games. Although she considered herself strong mentally, she was not prepared for what life would be like after she returned. 

What followed, as Vazquez described it, was an "Olympic depression."  

“You dream about going to the Olympics and being in the finals because it’s the highest level of competition,” Vazquez said. “When I came back, I wanted to do it again and win a medal. I didn’t know what to do in the two years in between. I could compete in the ACC, NCAA and World Champs but I kept thinking, ‘Why would I do that if I already went to the Olympics?’"

Back at the collegiate level, Vazquez put pressure on herself to perform perfectly at every event. Because she'd reached such a high level of competition, she felt that there was no room for error in her college meets. 

In order to reset herself, Vazquez went home to Mexico last summer and took a break from diving. She said that taking a step back allowed her to see what she really enjoyed about competing. 

“Communicating with my coach and reminding myself that I didn't have to have that pressure has been helping me," Vazquez said.

Going into the ACC Championships, Vazquez’s sole focus was finding joy in competing again. By doing just that, Vazquez broke not just a UNC record but also a meet record in the one-meter springboard, with a score of 379.25. 

“It was just insane to see how far I've come and how much you can improve from one year to another,” Vazquez said. 

Vazquez credits her relationships with Gamboa and senior diver Alex Hart for pushing her to perform at a higher level this season.

Vazquez said that Gamboa has been doing "a great job" of reminding her that she doesn't have to do anything "crazy or special."

“You just have to be you,” Vazquez said. 

Gamboa said that, especially after the Olympics, Vazquez has been “more open-minded and flexible” to adjustments that her coaches have offered.

“We’ve added confidence to our relationship,” Gamboa said. “We can celebrate great things but we can also sit down and talk about what we're not doing well, and what we need to do to get better.”

Hart, an Austrian native, clicked with Vazquez both in and out of the pool due to their shared identity as international students. The pair also lived together in a house during Vazquez's sophomore year. Their relationship has allowed Hart to push Vazquez as a diver and to be one of her biggest fans. 

Hart joked that the two divers fight like siblings when he acts as her “annoying older brother.” Hart said that, although Vazquez would deny it, she appreciates their bond.

“There's little challenges that push you a bit further, and I love to do that with Aranza,” Hart said. “You can always do better as a teammate, but I'm trying to be there for her mentally as well as physically pushing her."

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In early March, the junior will compete in the NCAA Zone Diving Championships with hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. With the support of teammates and coaches alike, Hart is confident that Vazquez will continue to flourish as a diver in the postseason and in years to come. 

“She's a super powerful diver who's technically very clean, and every day, you notice that she's not leaving out anything,” Hart said. “She's doing the extra work and putting the effort in by working on her technique and conditioning every single day. If she keeps doing that, I think she will go way further in the Olympics. I think she could medal if she keeps working.”

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