Kara McCormack is an All-American diver and a mathematics major with a 3.98 grade-point average.
But when she’s on a diving board, her knowledge of numbers is of no assistance.
“You have to turn that analytical part of your brain off,” said McCormack, a 5-7 junior who last season was named the University of Miami’s Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. “Part of diving is instinctual. If you over-think it, you will mess up.
“You go with muscle memory — just do it and don’t look back. That’s different from math, where you can ruminate for a while.”
Even without ruminating, McCormack is doing exceptionally well in her sport. She is, after all, the reigning ACC Diver of the Year.
Her specialty is platform diving, where she won the ACC title last season and finished sixth at nationals.
Randy Ableman, who is in his 23rd year as UM’s highly accomplished diving coach, recruited McCormack out of Austin.
McCormack started diving at age 9 but didn’t get serious about the sport until she was 14. She was fairly raw when Ableman, a nine-time NCAA National Coach of the Year, took an interest.
“She hadn’t been diving all that long, and I thought she was someone I could develop,” said Ableman, who has coached in five consecutive Olympic Games. “What originally drew me to her was her strength. She’s very powerful.”
McCormack said that strength might come from her early years as a gymnast. But by high school, her focus was on diving for the Texas Aquatics Club on the campus of the University of Texas.
“We stole her away from the Longhorns,” Ableman said of McCormack, who also got scholarship offers from Auburn and Georgia before choosing Miami.
Ableman has coached 12 national champions, including four-time champ Rio Ramirez, who is now the diving instructor at FIU. Ableman’s most recent champions were Brittany Viola and Reuben Ross in 2008.
For McCormack to reach that status, she will have to add a higher degree of difficulty to her dives, which has been a point of emphasis this fall.
That can be a scary proposition for McCormack, who admits she has struggled at times with the mental side of her sport, especially when her name is announced at a big meet and she feels all eyes are on her.
“Diving is probably 90 percent mental,” McCormack said. “It’s so hard to train your mind to be calm and alert and to know all your keys [the things you need to remember on each dive].
“I used to be weak mentally,” she said. “I would freeze up and not remember my keys. [Ableman] helped me to remain confident.”
Despite the pressure, McCormack said she enjoys the “adrenaline rush” she gets from diving.
“The sensation of falling is unnatural for most people,” McCormack said. “That we [divers] get to experience that is exhilarating.”
Besides McCormack, UM should be formidable by the spring, when everyone is expected to be healthy and eligible. Lindsay Lester, a senior from San Jose, Calif., finished eighth at nationals last season in the three-meter competition. But she is coming off surgery on her wrist.
Thea Vock, a senior from Clermont, was ninth in the three-meter as a sophomore in 2012. But she has missed 18 months following double shoulder surgery.
Cheyenne Cousineau, a junior, sat out last season after transferring from Ohio State. She won the Big 10 title and finished fourth in the nation in 2012 platform competitions.