Tawni Jones, BYU's only female All-American diver currently on the squad.
How does a Mountain West Conference Diver of the Year, All-American, six-time MWC Diver of the Week and two-time 5A Arizona State Champion realize such feats?
Good old fashioned hard work is what accomplishes such grand tasks and BYU diver Tawni Jones has done just that.
Daughter of David and Lisa Jones, Tawni is a 5-foot-4 senior diver health education major who hails from Mesa, Ariz. She enters her senior season at BYU as the leading female diver, already achieving three of the first five MWC Diver of the Week awards.
But does talent like this come naturally to Jones? While it is uncertain whether talent comes naturally, one thing is certain: Jones has an incredible work ethic that has allowed her to perform at a top level her entire life.
Jones was born in Arizona and when she was a year old, her family moved to Las Vegas, Nev., where she was able to start competing in gymnastics. Her mother, Lisa, describes her as very committed.
“One of the things we teach in our family is that if you do something, you do it all the way,” Lisa described. “It doesn’t surprise me of how well she has done in diving. She has always been a very hard worker and very committed.”
At only age nine she was a level nine gymnast, whereas most collegiate gymnasts are at level nine or 10 when recruited. At age 10 her family moved back to Mesa where the thing to do was put your children in summer aquatic programs. The Jones’ did just that, where Tawni began the thing that would become the love of her life.
“I started swimming and diving and [BYU diving coach] Keith [Russell]’s brother was actually a club coach in Mesa,” said Jones. “He was at the city meet and had fliers about his club team and so I started doing club and just focused on diving.”
Jones had done gymnastics, swimming, dance, track and cheerleading, but decided to focus on diving – also being able to cheer while she dove in high school.
Getting better and better each day, Jones was able to compete in Junior Olympic Diving for many years, traveling to regional and national competitions.
“I have traveled to Hawai’i and Canada and quite a bit in the states,” said Jones. “Usually my mom would come with me – we were travel buddies.”
She is very grateful to her mother for not only being her travel buddy, but also pushing her to stick with diving and give her best.
“I didn’t always want to practice,” said Jones. “I would say, ‘I want to go play with my friends!’ But as my mom helped me stick to it, time went on and I really started to fall in love with the sport. It came to the point where I went because I wanted to go and get better and I didn’t need someone there to push me anymore.”
Jones explains that from a very young age she always had a very structured schedule. She spent countless hours at the pool to improve herself and achieve excellence.
In high school she placed second at state on the 1-meter board as a freshman and improved her sophomore year, winning state. Her junior season was going just as well as the previous two, but the unexpected happened a week before the state meet.
While practicing in the rain, Jones slipped on the board and tore a ligament in her foot between her first and second toe. After having two screws placed in her foot and two surgeries, she recovered over the next eight months. With skilled physical therapists helping her to get back on the boards, she was able to make a full recovery and won state her senior year.
“This story describes exactly how much drive Tawni has,” said Lisa. “She had something catastrophic happen and she was able to conquer that and excel even more after.”
After having such a stellar high school career, Jones was able to talk to coaches at BYU, Stanford, Arizona State and Texas. Her very busy high school schedule prevented her from going on long recruiting visits, but made it to BYU in the middle of one week.
“I had known Keith a really long time because my first coach was his brother,” said Jones. “And when I was about 12, I went to the BYU diving camp and we met each other again. He started contacting me in high school and he came to Arizona to meet with my family and me. He even came and watched me cheer at a basketball game.”
On her recruiting trip to BYU she was very impressed with the coaches, the advisors and the administration. She started thinking a lot more about BYU after her trip to Provo, being so impressed that she decided to sign early with BYU, ending up never going on any other recruiting trips.
“When I was about 15 or 16, I started thinking about diving in college, making it my goal,” said Jones. “When I started doing a lot of national competitions in junior diving and competed well, that’s when I was really excited about continuing my diving career and actually going to college to dive.”
If Jones wasn’t a diver, she says that BYU would have been her first choice since everyone in her family had gone there, but because she wanted to dive in college, that drove her decisions for what school to choose.
“Diving actually made me consider going other places,” she said. “But in the end I realized that this was the best place for me in other areas and in diving. I think Keith is an awesome coach and the program here is amazing too. After coming to BYU, there is no way that I would have chosen to go anywhere else.”
Jones wasn’t the only one to be pleased with her decision in coming to BYU. Long time BYU diving coach and former Olympian, Keith Russell, has praised Jones as a stellar athlete in and out of the pool.
“It’s always nice to go to a competition and know that someone is going to be giving their all, and Tawni did that every time,” said Russell. “She can go in and compete with herself in almost any place in the world. That is the best deal that you can have as a coach. You know she is always going to do well, the question is just how well. I also never had to worry about Tawni doing her school work and going to her classes.”
Teammate of three and a half years, Ava Jackman, explains Jones as always leading by example. “She doesn’t say much about diving in practice,” said Jackman, “but she pushes everyone on the team just by working hard. We’re always trying to catch up to her.”
Jackman also described Jones as just a good person. “She always writes notes saying thank you for being a good friend or thank you for being a good teammate. She’s a good person – that’s just the way that she is.”
While competing at BYU, Jones was able to make huge improvements her sophomore year when she was named MWC Diver of the Year and went on to nationals to achieve All-America status. She describes these two awards as the biggest accomplishments of her career.
“I was very excited I was able to be named an All-American and Conference Diver of the Year,” said Jones. “It was really neat to have the other coaches in the conference vote for me, it was an honor to get that award.”
Health problems and injuries plaguing Jones during her junior year caused her to be out of practice for the beginning of the season.
“When conference and zones came around I was able to compete, but I hadn’t been doing it long enough to peak at that time and didn’t finish as well as I had hoped,” Jones said.
Although last year was a tough year for Jones to get over, just like she bounced back in high school to win the state title her senior year, she looks forward to having her senior season be her best yet.
“I feel great right now with the way I’m competing,” she said. “It has hit me now that this is my senior season and I am really pumped up about it. I am excited for what’s going to happen. My body is holding up a lot better than it has been in the past, hopefully I will have a good end to my career and go out strong.”
Jones has already guaranteed her spot to compete at NCAA Regionals this season and looks forward to accomplishing three main goals.
“The main goal is to stay healthy,” said Jones. “If I am healthy and feeling good, I am able to dive well and do my best. My other goals are to be named an All-American again and to possibly get MWC Diver of the Year again.”
With already three MWC Diver of the Week awards and five first-place finishes on the season thus far, Jones is on track to achieve whatever she sets out to do.
“When people bring up that I am graduating and that diving at BYU is coming to an end I jokingly say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’” said Jones. “Being a student athlete is so hard and you have to sacrifice a lot. But even though it’s hard, because it is my last year, I have realized how grateful I am for the experience.”