Gophers divers set for qualifying meet

Ryan Schuster

Three years ago, when a trio of untested freshmen divers took to the pool for their first NCAA Zone Diving competition in Cleveland, Ohio, they had much different aspirations than they do now.
Laurie Nelson and P.J. Bogart were thoroughly entrenched as the top divers on the team. The two combined for 20 All-American awards in their four years with the Gophers, so the three freshman had a tough lead to follow.
But senior divers Andrea Berg, Carrie Hansen and Isaac Bjorklund should all be a little more relaxed this weekend than they were back in 1994.
“My first year, I walked into the pool and it was definitely overwhelming to see all the great divers,” tri-captain Bjorklund said. “Now it’s a little more comfortable feeling.”
The trio will compete along with junior Matt Ninneman at the 1997 NCAA Diving Zone competition starting today and running through Saturday at the University Aquatic Center. All four divers have NCAA berths hanging in the balance. The women’s NCAAs will be held Mar. 20-22 in Indianapolis, while the men’s nationals are Mar. 27-29 at the Aquatic Center.
Last year, Bogart was the only Gophers diver to advance to the NCAA championships from diving zone ‘C’. He was a senior All-American in the 1- and 3-meter and platform diving events at the NCAAs. This season, both the diving zones and the NCAA meet will be held at the Aquatic Center, an advantage that the Gophers men hope will help to compensate for Bogart’s loss.
“Having it here, too, makes me feel a little more at ease,” Bjorklund said. “I’m very comfortable with the pool and the atmosphere.”
Minnesota’s men’s diving team has had a difficult time replacing Bogart and has been hampered by inconsistency this season. After performing well during the regular season, the Gophers struggled at the Big Ten championships. Bjorklund and Ninneman both failed to make a championship final (top eight) in all three events at the Big Tens, in which Minnesota finished second.
“For the guys, you know we could do better,” Gophers diving coach Kongzheng Li said. “Definitely, the results have not turned out that good.”
Berg and Hansen, however, have been a pleasant surprise all season for Minnesota. The pair of seniors finished in the top six of all three diving competitions at the Big Tens, helping the Gophers women take second at the conference meet.
The top three finishers in the 1- and 3-meter, and the top two competitors in the platform, will be assured of making it to the NCAAs. Each time a diver qualifies in more than one event, it opens up an additional slot for the NCAA meet.
“It’s a really hard meet, and diving is a contest where not just what we do counts, what everybody else does counts, too,” Berg said.
Even though it remains an outside possibility that all of the Gophers will advance to the NCAAs, the divers remain confident in their abilities.
“It’s definitely possible for all four of us to qualify if we dive well,” Bjorklund said.
Notes: Sophomore women’s diver Shelby Miller will not dive because of a shin injury. She is expected to be back next year along with Ninneman and Zachary Sorenson, who redshirted this seasono.