Texas A&M Diving Team brings international flare to this week's SEC Championships

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - The allure of competing on the biggest stage, receiving a world-class education and experiencing something new, leads divers from all over the globe to Aggieland.

"75% of the country's best divers are in our conference, so these athletes have the opportunity to compete against the best of the best, and get a fantastic degree while doing so," said Texas A&M Head Diving Coach Jay Lerew.

Sam Thornton, the 2016 SEC Freshman Diver of the Year, arrived in College Station by way of Leeds, United Kingdom.

"Coming to America, its somewhere I had really never dove before, so I was really excited about the adventure that was going to be in front of me," Thornton says.

A telecommunications major with aspirations of working in the professional sports realm, Thornton says making the move to College Station was one of the best decisions he's ever made.

"I feel like it was just a good fit because I was looking for a place that I could call home, and I think College Station fit that really well."

Australia's Kurtis Mathews and Canada's Tyler Henschel both say they found role models in former Aggie divers Grant Nel and Eric Sehn.

"He would always talk about A&M," said senior Tyler Henschel, who, like Sehn, hails from Edmonton, Alberta. "He would always flash his ring, he would always talk about it (A&M) and finally I was like, 'ok, you know what, you've convinced me, that's where I'm going to go'."

Mathews knew he made the right decision before he even stepped foot in College Station.

"On my recruiting trip when I was flying over College Station, even before I landed, I just knew that this was going to be the place that I wanted to go," Mathews said.

The benefits of competing on the biggest stage also bring challenges. Junior nuclear engineering major Alais Kalonji hails from Rennes, France, and says being far from home can be difficult.

"Freshman year was tough, just because I had to adapt to everything," Kaloji said. "The school, the different style of coaching from Jay and just the hours of diving that I would be doing here. But, all in all, it has been the best experience of my life so far."

An experience that winning an SEC Championship this week could make even better.

The SEC Swimming and Diving Championships begin Wednesday at The Rec Natatorium.