Barnard finishes third, but Gophers take 25th as a team

Sophomore Matt Barnard earned All-American honors for his performance.

Senior CJ Smith swims at the University Aquatic Center against Wisconsin on Oct. 17, 2014.

Daily File Photo, Alex Tuthill-Preus

Senior CJ Smith swims at the University Aquatic Center against Wisconsin on Oct. 17, 2014.

by Danny Chen

With just a few events remaining in the NCAA championships Saturday, the Gophers found themselves near the bottom of the standings. Then Matt Barnard shot them up 11 places. 

The sophomore’s third-place performance in the platform diving competition took Minnesota from 36th place to 25th overall, where it finished the meet.

 “I broke the school record, so I’m very happy about that,” Barnard said.  “But I wasn’t expecting to get third overall.  My goal was to just be an All-American, but finishing top three is like the cherry on top.”

Diving coach Wenbo Chen said Barnard brings the diving team to another level.

“He’s very competitive, and he is still young,” Chen said.  “Because he is only a sophomore, it is still a learning process for him.  That’s why he struggled a little [during] the first two days.  But after that, he built up a lot of confidence. He was really calm and really focused, and he helped the team out a lot.”

Besides Barnard, three other Minnesota divers competed at the NCAA championships — senior Erik Larsen and juniors Dylan Zoe and Manny Pollard.

Of the three, Zoe and Pollard finished as All-American honorable mentions.

Zoe finished 13th in platforms, while Pollard finished 13th in the 1-meter competition, contributing eight combined team points for Minnesota.

A new qualifying rule allowed any diver who placed in the top 12 at one event in the NCAA qualifying zones to compete in any diving event at the championships.

Head coach Kelly Kremer said the change allowed Zoe and Pollard to help the team.

“With the old format, only Matt would have qualified for the NCAAs,” Kremer said.  “But the new format gave an opportunity for Dylan and Manny to compete, and it clearly paid off for us.”

With zero points from the swimming side, the rule greatly benefited Minnesota’s overall placing. 

The Gophers only qualified two swimmers for the 2015 NCAA championships — senior CJ Smith and sophomore Jakub Maly.

Both finished as All-American honorable mentions last year, but they came up short in their competitions this year.

Smith placed 22nd in the 1650-yard freestyle with a time of 14:58.52, while Maly placed 25th in the 200-yard breaststroke at 1:54.57 — a new program record.

Smith said it was disappointing to end his senior year that way.

“It wasn’t great, and I didn’t swim the time that I wanted,” Smith said.  “But you are not going to have the best time and the best swim meet of your life every single meet, so I just [have] to move on to the next one.”

The next competitive swimming for Smith will be the 2016 Olympic trials, where he will try to make the national team.

The swimming team’s next competitive meet will be next season, and Kremer said he would use this championship meet as a reflection for what to improve on during the offseason.

“I’m excited for the returners that we have and the young group that we have coming in with our recruiting class,” Kremer said.  “We knew that this year we had a small NCAA team, and because of that, we knew that it will be tough to put points on the board, so I’m really excited to get back to work on Monday and start the process on building the ’15-’16 season.”