Divers prepare for NCAA zones

The divers are hoping to qualify for the NCAA championships.

Junior Manny Pollard dives at the Aquatic Center on Dec. 5, 2014.

Daily File Photo, Liam James Doyle

Junior Manny Pollard dives at the Aquatic Center on Dec. 5, 2014.

Danny Chen

The Gophers swimmers wrapped up the Big Ten championships two weeks ago with a few earning NCAA bids.

Now, the divers will attempt to do the same thing.

The Gophers will compete this week at the NCAA Zone D Diving qualifier in Iowa City, Iowa.

There are five qualifying event zones for diving, and each zone has varying numbers of qualifiers in each event.

On the women’s side, there are eight NCAA spots for 1-meter, 10 for 3-meter and nine for the platform championships in Zone D. On the men’s side, there are eight, six and seven spots, respectively.

Each zone is guaranteed five women’s spots per event and four men’s.

However, zones earn bonus spots depending on last year’s NCAA championships results.

Student-athletes who finished top-16 in an event at the previous NCAA championships would benefit their zone.

For example, last year former-Gophers diver Maggie Keefer took fourth in the 1-meter event, scoring 328.20 points. Since Keefer scored at the NCAAs, she helped Zone D earn an additional qualification spot at the 1-meter.

Although junior Jessica Ramberg didn’t contribute to an additional spot for Zone D this year, she did qualify for the NCAA championships last year after placing fourth in the 1-meter event at NCAA zones.

“She did great at the zone meet to qualify for the NCAAs,” diving coach Wenbo Chen said. “She was a little brand-new to the NCAA championships, so last year, it was a learning experience for her. Hopefully she can learn from last year and perform even better this year.”

In addition, sophomore Matt Barnard reached the championships in platform diving. He said it was a big steppingstone to get to the championships.

“Last year, there was a lot of pressure coming into the zones,” Barnard said. “Luckily, this year they changed up the rules, so we will have a better chance of qualifying for events.”

The change of rules in the NCAA zones Barnard was referring to was the distinction between eligible divers and reimbursed divers.

In the past, only 41 women and 35 men could qualify for the NCAA championships.

Those student-athletes earn a spot, and the NCAA reimburses them for participation in the championships.

However, this limited the number of spots for divers to qualify for the NCAA championships.

Under the new rule, any eligible diver can compete at any of the diving events at the NCAAs if he or she places in the top 12 at the zones.

Universities will support divers who place outside the qualification spots for their events, not the NCAA.

For senior Manny Pollard, who finished fourth in the platform diving last year at Zone D but didn’t qualify for the NCAA championships, this year will be another opportunity for him to advance.

“I was disappointed to not qualify for the NCAAs last year,” Pollard said. “But that just fuels my motivation to work harder to qualify this year. And giving this year’s format, I think I will.”