For Jessica Parratto and Michal Bower, being competitors is just a small component of a friendship that has grown into a dominant duo this season for the IU women’s swimming and diving program.
“Not a lot of schools have a pair that can go toe-to-toe or can push each other, and so I think we’re really lucky because you want to be the best and if you want to dive well you’ve got to dive with someone day in and day out that’s going to push you,” Parratto said.
Parratto, a native of Dover, New Hampshire, has been a major spark plug for the Hoosiers since she arrived in Bloomington. She won the 10-meter platform national championship by nearly 30 points and the Big Ten 10-meter platform championship with a conference record score of 424.45 as a freshman.
“My team was just really behind me,” Parratto said. “I felt like the entire way, the entire season, all the swimmers lining the pool supporting me, cheering the loudest, that was one of my favorite parts about collegiate diving and I think that’s why I was so successful.”
Coming off a seventh place finish with former IU diver Amy Cozad in the synchronized 10-meter platform dive at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics — they entered the final as the second seed — Parratto has come up huge for the Hoosiers this season. She swept the platform and 1-meter springboard events against Purdue, won the 1-meter and 3-meter springboard events against Michigan and won the 1-meter springboard against Michigan State.
Despite all her success, this season presented a fairly distinct obstacle for Parratto. After devoting an entire year to the 10-meter platform dive in preparation for the Olympics, she has shifted her focus to the springboard events.
It takes time to get used to bounce of the springboard relative to the concrete slab she’s used to jumping off, IU head diving coach Drew Johansen said, but Parratto has done a great job adjusting, and Johansen said he’s looking forward to seeing the results in championship season.
Granted, this season was not Parratto’s first time on the springboard. In the 3-meter she finished seventh at the NCAA Championships and second at the Big Ten Championships during her freshman year. Parratto also finished fourth in the 1-meter at Big Tens that same year.
“It’s been more of a struggle than anything so far but, it’s been like a good struggle,” Parratto said. “It’s made me learn a lot.”
Bower has been a key component to the Hoosiers’ success as well. Parratto’s partner in crime won the 3-meter springboard against Michigan State, Tennessee and Kentucky while also sweeping the 1-meter and 3-meter against Louisville on Senior Day last Friday. The sweep against the Cardinals was also the first time the captain had ever swept the 1- and 3-meter events.
While both divers have been integral parts of the Hoosiers’ team this season, Bower in particular faced an interesting road getting to IU. She began her career at Arizona, but after her sophomore year she sought a change. She initially explored IU because she had participated in camps in Bloomington as a junior diver and ultimately felt like IU was the place to be.
“I walked in starstruck,” Bower said. “IU has such big names — like Jessica Parratto is a big name, Mikey Hixon, Drew himself is a two-time Olympic head coach — so I guess I thought it would be super intimidating and hard going in, and it’s just been absolutely incredibly amazing.”
Once at IU Bower began to see immediate improvement after her time in the desert. In her first season as a Hoosier, she finished ninth at the Big Ten Championships in the 1-meter springboard with a then personal-best score of 312.15, while also placing 13th in the 10-meter platform dive.
“She’s one of the hardest workers in the program and comes in every day, gives 100 percent every day,” Johansen said of Bower. “On the tired days, on the good days, on the heavy school days, on the sore muscle days, she leaves it all in the pool, and she does it with a smile on her face.”
It was finally this year, Bower’s senior season, when she began to reach her full potential. This was highlighted when she placed third in the 3-meter dive and seventh in the 1-meter dive at the USA Diving Winter National Championships. The former result earned her a spot on the USA World University Games roster that will compete in Taipei, Taiwan, in August.
It was an incredible experience, Bower said. She didn’t even know it was a qualifying meet for the World University Games, but said it was pure icing on the cake and a special moment when she qualified.
While Bower and Parratto have competed tirelessly against one another, they can rely on each other to bring out the best in each other day in and day out while also maintaining an incredible friendship.
“I guess she’s just my best friend,” Bower said. “When I transferred in our female team is really actually small, and so I got really lucky that the one other person on this team is actually a person that I really get along with well and love to hang out with outside of the pool.”
As both divers continue to push each other, Parratto and Bower are keen on finishing the season on a high note and hopefully taking the IU women’s swimming and diving program to new heights in the Big Ten and NCAA championships. However, for Bower, these last few meets will signify the end of her career.
“My goal is to soak it in,” Bower said. “I just want to enjoy the moment, enjoy my teammates and kind of just want to let loose and dive and have fun.”
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