Gophers led by veteran divers

Diving coach Wenbo Chen said he hopes to send eight divers to the NCAA meet.

Gophers junior Matt Barnard competes in diving in the Jean K. Freeman Aquatics Center on Saturday, Dec. 5., 2015.

Joe Sulik, Daily File Photo

Gophers junior Matt Barnard competes in diving in the Jean K. Freeman Aquatics Center on Saturday, Dec. 5., 2015.

Thomas Jaakola

The Gophers men’s and women’s divers made their final dives of the season count last year, and Minnesota is confident it can do the same this season.
 
 
Eight Minnesota divers competed at the NCAA Championships a year ago, and diving coach Wenbo Chen said he hopes to qualify the same number of athletes this year.
 
 
The NCAA diving zones begin on March 7, but before then the divers will try to help the Gophers at the men’s and women’s Big Ten Championships.
 
 
The women start the conference meet Feb. 17. Last year, the team won a fourth consecutive Big Ten title.
 
 
“[Chen] helps build this team to high levels of confidence, and then [we] as a team feed off each other’s energy,” senior diver Jessica Ramberg said. “The team creates healthy levels of competition so that we help push each other to where we want to be. We try to keep everyone accountable for their goals.”
 
 
The diving team’s success is due in large part to all its returning talent. Six of the Gophers’ NCAA competitors last year are still on the roster.
 
 
Junior Yu Zhou won the NCAA title on the 3-meter dive a year ago with a score of 410.25 points and was named the NCAA Diver of the Year.
 
 
This season she won the Big Ten Diver of the Week award eight times, after winning it only three times her first two years on campus.
 
 
Junior Matt Barnard was named an All-American last year after placing third in the NCAA in the platform dive, but he topped himself this year. He broke his own school record on the platform dive in December with a score of 475.40 and set a new school record in the 3-meter dive.
 
 
He broke his 3-meter record again at the Minnesota Challenge in early February by scoring a 450.95.
 
 
“I think that a lot of the team’s success this year has come out of how we practice,” Barnard said. “Although we take it seriously, we really have a good time at training. We laugh, we play loud music and we get really excited when people are diving well. For me, practice this year has been less of a chore and become something I look forward to every day.”
 
 
With so much experienced talent back on the roster, the team hasn’t had a hard time connecting this year.
 
 
“Everybody [on] the team is willing to work hard,” Chen said. “They support each other a lot. That’s what has made us so successful.”
 
 
Other than Barnard, the men’s team also returned seniors Dylan Zoe and Manny Pollard, two honorable mention All-Americans.
 
 
The women’s team will attempt to get Ramberg and junior Lexi Tenenbaum back to the NCAA Championships to meet Chen’s goal.
 
 
The Gophers will need two more divers to perform well to send eight to the season’s final meet, but head coach Kelly Kremer said he was confident.
 
 
“We’ve got the best diving coach in the world in Wenbo Chen,” Kremer said. “He’s built a tremendous program here. We’re consistent, [and] he gets the most out of the divers.”