VERMILLION, S.D. — When Haley Pederson landed in the water after her final dive in the 3-meter event at the Summit League Swimming and Diving Championships two years ago, she had no idea her performance had just won her the event.

A freshman at the time, the University of South Dakota diver was indifferent about whether she would land a spot on the podium.

The 2017 West Fargo High School graduate took one glance at the scoreboard after she completed her dive, and saw she was in the top ranks. But there were still more divers to go.

She refrained from peeking at the scoreboard, which provided live updates throughout the meet, a decision she made with her coach so she wouldn’t psych herself out scoping out her competitors.

Pederson, who competes in the 1- and 3-meter dives at USD, didn’t feel any pressure. She was proud of her showing, and chatting with the divers around her.

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The next few divers went, and she saw she had beat them by a couple points. The person she was talking to at the time turned to her and said, "You’re going to get a medal. You for sure got third place." Pederson, not expecting anything, was “super excited” for the chance at even a bronze medal.

The final diver went, and Pederson beat that person by one point.

“It was a really cool moment, because I had zero clue going through the whole meet,” Pederson said. “I was really just having a lot of fun talking to the people that were around me, and I had no clue that I had won.”

Now a junior, Pederson has surpassed even her own expectations. After a freshman-year, title-clinching performance that earned her All-Summit League honors, she achieved another goal the following season.

“I really didn’t think that I’d be coming to a Division I school,” Pederson said. “And when I committed here, it was a huge step for my athletic and academic career. The success that I've had over the last couple years has really shown how hard I’ve been working in the classroom and in the pool.”

Pederson, who holds the 1-meter record for 6 and 11 dives at West Fargo, finished second in the 3-meter event at the Summit League Championships her sophomore season with a score of 270.50. The dive earned her a trip to the NCAA Zone D Qualifying meet.

She also captured a third-place finish in the 1-meter dive (244.70) at the competition, and received All-Summit League honors in both events.

The former Packers diving standout will be headed to Zones again this year in March. She qualified for the NCAA Zones in the 1-meter dive at a dual with Iowa State earlier this season, setting a personal best with a 270.65 point mark.

University of South Dakota diver and 2017 West Fargo High School graduate Haley Pederson, who has earned five Summit League diver of the week honors this season, has qualified for the NCAA Zones for the second year in a row.  Photo courtesy of Madisen Martinez, University of South Dakota
University of South Dakota diver and 2017 West Fargo High School graduate Haley Pederson, who has earned five Summit League diver of the week honors this season, has qualified for the NCAA Zones for the second year in a row. Photo courtesy of Madisen Martinez, University of South Dakota

“I’ve gotten some bigger dives that my high-school self never imagined me being able to do,” Pederson said. “Even on the smaller dives, I feel a lot more confident in myself and in my diving.”

Pederson has earned five Summit League diver of the week honors this season, and recently swept the 1-meter (259.30) and 3-meter (248.50) dives at the Augustana/Sioux Falls Invitational in late November.

Pederson, who was named to the all-state second-team in high school, didn’t always know she wanted to dive in college. It wasn’t until her junior year that she started to even consider it, and her senior year when she started seriously looking into a school that would provide “the best of both worlds” for academics and diving.

She was looking at smaller schools in Minnesota, but South Dakota knocked. When Pederson visited the Vermillion, S.D., campus, she was more than impressed with the school.

“We have a very awesome business program here. The team blew me away, too. I just felt so included,” Pederson said. “We really have a feeling of family, and I felt that from the moment I was on campus. That’s what drew me to USD.”

In her first two years with the Coyotes, Pederson, who’s studying business management, has been named to the Academic All-Summit League, and has made the Summit League academic honor roll both years.

She was also named an honorable mention Scholar All-American by the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) in July. Students who earn honorable mention designation earn at least a 3.5 grade-point average, while either achieving an individual "B" time or competing in their NCAA diving qualification meet.

Pederson didn’t have a lot of expectations her freshman year, and said winning the 3-meter dive kick-started her career. She aimed to qualify for Zones last year, and accomplished that. This year, having already qualified in the 1-meter, she’s working to earn a spot in the 3-meter.

“This season, I really am focusing on doing the best I know how,” Pederson said. “Or, ‘When I know how, the best I’m able.’ That’s really our team’s motto this year. So I'm really just trusting my gut, trusting my instincts, knowing that I’ve worked really hard.”