Last chance for Minnesota’s divers to qualify for NCAA Championships

Krista Theis

Seven of Minnesota’s finest divers will represent the Gophers at the 2007 NCAA Zone Diving Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich.

This weekend’s competition marks the last chance for Minnesota individuals to qualify for the NCAA Championships held in March, and with strong conference competition and few invitations, the Gophers’ divers need to step up to the platform in order to move on.

The Minnesota diving team, consisting of five women and two men, only needed to qualify in one of the three events throughout the season to compete in all three this weekend.

This year’s women’s team is comprised of senior Holly Jakits, sophomores Erica Schiffler and Brianna Hubbard and freshmen Alexandra Barstad and Jacqueline Schroeder.

The two men competing are senior Shaun Kennedy and sophomore Cole Young.

In order to proceed to the NCAAs, Minnesota’s divers will have to place in the upper echelon of either the one-meter, three-meter or platform events.

Of 41 women competitors, only nine will continue on to the NCAA meet. The men’s team, however, needs to out-dive 35 others for only seven available slots.

“It’ll be tough to get in for all our kids,” coach Jason Baumann said. “But if they dive well and compete well, that’s all that matters.”

Young said how difficult qualifying will be this weekend.

“To qualify for NCAAs you basically have to be either top three on spring board or top two on tower,” he said. “So, to make NCAAs, it’s a pretty stiff contest.”

Although continuing on to the NCAA Championship meet is a goal of each of Minnesota’s divers, performing at their best is more important.

Jakits, who finished one spot short of qualifying for NCAAs in 2006, said she would love to qualify this year and knows she could be a contributing team member, but realizes how tough her competition is.

“We’re in a really difficult zone and the system for qualifying is not the best,” she said. “As long as I put two great lists together, I have to be satisfied.”

In her senior year, Jakits will only be competing in the three-meter and platform, allowing a one-day break between events.

“Hopefully that will help me recover and make my body feel a little bit better and ready for Sunday,” she said.

Another senior who is trying to finish his final season on a high note is Kennedy.

Kennedy said that throughout the years he always thought the platform has been his strongest event. Unfortunately for him, that is also an event in which only the winner moves onto NCAAs.

“It’s probably the toughest direction to get to ‘NCs,’ ” he said, “but I feel it’s my best event.”

With so many divers competing this weekend, the length of time between performances will be considerably longer than previous meets, Baumann said.

“You may do one (dive) every 20 minutes,” he said, “and you have to maintain your focus for that one minute that you’re up there.”

According to Baumann, that mental preparation, in addition to the physical training, is imperative to performing well when the divers have that opportunity on the board.

“It’s all about who shows up that day,” Baumann said.

Although none of the Gophers are a favorite to proceed to the NCAA Championships at this point, teammates are hopeful and optimistic that this weekend will be a success.

“I just hope as a team we really have a great meet,” Jakits said. “This is a great opportunity for us to step it up and once again show what we can do in the pool and how great we are.”