Freshman diver will only get better for U

by Jim Schortemeyer

Two members of the Gophers men’s swimming and diving team’s freshman class have emerged from the pack this season, although one, in terms of attention, has made a bigger splash so far.
Freshman Alex Massura has garnered immediate recognition by winning Big Ten athlete of the month honors. Diver Dan Croaston, meanwhile, has quietly gone about winning all but one event he’s competed in this year. Croastan’s impact has been short-term, but it could be even more in the long run.
Minnesota has had two Big Ten diving champions over the past 26 years. Croaston has shown the potential to become the third member of that club. He’s set personal records this year on both boards, but has lacked consistency.
Croastan first came to the attention of diving coach Kongzheng Li several years ago, when Li saw him competing at a Junior National event. Li, now in his second year at Minnesota, knows a little about diving talent. He won a bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics, a silver at the 1986 World Championships and has coached numerous world-class athletes.
When it came time for Li to recruit his first class of freshmen, he sought Croastan.
“I want to build a strong diving program here,” Li said. “Dan was one of the guys on my list.”
Croaston developed his talent locally at Champlin Park High School, located about 15 miles from the University. During his standout career, he racked up four all-state honors, and was a two-time all-American.
When it came time for Croaston to choose his college last fall, the decision was simple. His family and one of the best coaches in the nation were in Minnesota, so it was only natural he would come here.
“My dad is my biggest supporter,” Croaston said. “He’s been to all the home meets.”
Li coached Croaston at the Senior National Championships last summer. As one of the youngest competitors in the field, Croaston made the diving community take notice. His results were not incredible –an 18th place finish on the tower, and 20th on the three meter board — but they were impressive for his age.
“He beat some of the kids nobody expected him to,” Li said, “and he surprised me, too.”
So far, his career at Minnesota has been impressive. Croaston has won every competition this year, with one exception. He took fourth on the one meter diving board in Nebraska, but came back strong the next day to win the three meter competition.
Although Croastan has been diving well, coaches would like to see him perform more consistently. But if he doesn’t do as well as he hopes to, it won’t be because of a lack of training.
“I’ve never had to practice as hard, for as many days, as I have now,” Croaston said with a dour expression.
Croaston and the rest of the swimming and diving team’s biggest challenge lies ahead of them. Since 1986, Minnesota is the only team to beat Michigan at the Big Ten Championships, and it managed that only in 1996.
With the season he’s been having so far, one might think he would have lofty expectations for the Big Ten meet Feb. 26-28. After all, he’s already beaten divers from Iowa, Wisconsin and Purdue. But both Li and Croaston were reserved in their comments about the conference championship.
“I have to worry about Ohio State and Indiana,” Croaston said. “There’s a couple good guys from there.”
If he does win a Big Ten championship, which is within his reach, it would certainly be a bonus. But it appears Croaston is still a work in progress.
“When I look at him now, I see great potential,” Li said.