Baltimore Sun's 25 women to watch in 2016

Diving right in

Lena Kardos is a diver for the Laguna Beach High swimming and diving team.

More accurately, Kardos is the diver for the Breakers.

She's the only one, but the team is happy to have her.

Last year, the senior finished third in one-meter diving at the CIF Southern Section Division III championships. That was 16 points earned and the Breakers used them to help them finish second at the Division III championships days later at Mt. San Antonio College.

"It was so weird," Kardos said. "I got third at CIF and they were like, 'Oh, you got points for our team!' and I was like, 'Oh, cool!' I didn't even know what I was doing; I just wanted to dive."

Kardos has been out of the water for a while this year battling a throat infection. She was hoping to just start practicing again this week; CIF finals are Wednesday at Fullerton College.

She'd love a similar performance before she heads to Cal, where she signed to continue diving. But really, she's already accomplished a lot in more ways than just a high score.

Kardos was in gymnastics for about 10 years and was certainly accomplished enough. By the end of that span, she was a Level 10 gymnast competing at the state championships.

Yet she said it was a struggle at times, and not only because of the tough maneuvers that required so much timing and dexterity. Kardos said at times in gymnastics, she battled with mental problems.

"It's hard to explain," she said. "You get mental blocks. You stand there, and your body knows how to do it, but you can't make your body do it. You're too scared to go for something. You're really anxious. That was my problem in gymnastics, and that's ultimately why I quit. That was one of the challenges going into diving for me."

Kardos started diving two years ago, partially because she said she liked the way it looked while watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics on television. It was certainly similar enough to gymnastics, with the twists and turns in the air. Yet she said diving can be a little more relaxing, even at the big meets.

"I think it's a little different because it's into water," she said.

"The water is way more forgiving than mats and hard ground, so I think that helped me. And it's a different environment. Right now, I'm doing a lot better. I can go for a lot more skills now."

She dives for the Mission Viejo Nadadores and Coach Todd Spohn, and has performed well in both club and high school meets, taking fourth earlier this year at the Mission Viejo Invitational. There are five categories of dive: front, back, reverse, inward and twister. Kardos' favorite is the backward dive.

Kardos excels at dives off the one-meter and three-meter springboards. Laguna Coach Kari Johnson, who herself swam for the Nadadores while attending Mission Viejo High, is certainly appreciative of her diver.

Kardos, though, is rarely seen around the Laguna pool. After all, it has no diving board.

"She was at the Mission Viejo Invitational, and our kids who were at that meet got to go watch her dive and cheer to her," Johnson said.

"It had somewhat of a team feel to it. But at CIF, it's totally separate, too. We don't even see the diving at CIF swimming."

Yet, Kardos still is very much a part of the team.

"I've done everything that I could to make her part of our team, just like some of the club swimmers who aren't here all the time," Johnson said. "On our sweatshirts and shirts this year, we've got 'Laguna Beach Swimming and Diving.' She's up on the record board, too, and I know she's good friends with Tierney [Doran] on the swim team. I just do my best to involve her as much as possible."

Kardos hopes during the club season to make it to zones, the next meet past regionals and a level she's never reached. She also looks forward to Cal.

She'll be going there with one of her good friends from club diving, Kahley Rowell of Santa Margarita High.

She's come so far with diving in two years, there seems to be a lot more potential there.

"It was really scary at first, not being able to see where I was going and the water is way below me," Kardos said. "You learn to spot. Once you finish one flip, you learn to spot where the board is, so you know where you are. Then you do another flip and spot the board, and then you know where to kick out and go into the water. Once you get used to the timing and the spotting, you're fine."

Less nerves now, just more confidence.

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