U divers gain valuable points toward solid finish

The four Minnesota divers finished first in total points, led by Rebecca Cornthwaite.

by Kent Erdahl

Divers are not often perceived as equals in the world of swimming and diving. Coming in to this season, Minnesota’s women’s diving team did not seem to be viewed as an exception.

Gophers first-year diving coach Mike Martens sought to change that with this year’s team.

“I think there was definitely a perception of the cushy divers, who didn’t really practice that much or work very hard,” Martens said.

To change things, Martens addressed the entire swimming and diving team at the beginning of the season, and promised the diving team would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the swimmers at this year’s Big Ten Championships.

The Gophers’ divers made good on that promise over the weekend, finishing first in total points at the Big Ten Championships at the University Aquatic Center, which was even more impressive considering the team had only four divers.

“We did well both individually and as a team,” freshman diver Holly Jakits said. “We had two divers in every event.”

The top scorer on the diving team, Rebecca Cornthwaite, also earned the most overall points for the entire Gophers team, finishing ninth in the 1-meter springboard, seventh in the 3-meter springboard and fourth in the 10-meter platform for a total of 36 combined points.

Although Cornthwaite performed well, it was the entire team’s performance that put Minnesota’s divers over the top.

Jakits and junior Abbie Bowden both made it into a top-eight final, finishing third and seventh, respectively, in the 10-meter platform and 1-meter springboard. Senior Shannon Jackson qualified for two finals, finishing with fifth and eighth in the 1- and 3-meter springboard finals.

The impressive performance might have come as a shock to fans because of the team’s size.

“We got a lot smaller this year,” Jackson said. “But we also got much closer and have really come together.”

All of the divers credited the unity to a much more demanding practice schedule implemented by Martens.

“As someone that was here last year, it was a much bigger time commitment,” Cornthwaite said. “We had never practiced in the morning before, and now we’re there at least 3-4 days a week.”

In addition, the divers have afternoon workouts every day but Sunday.

“I came in here and asked a lot of these girls,” Martens said. “I was impressed with how well they responded.”

Although the divers have now earned a lot of respect, Martens understands there will always be some kind of separation between swimmers and divers.

“The only thing we have in common is the water,” Martens said. “Divers are a different breed because they have to confront fear every time they step up for a dive.”

To help combat some of that fear, Martens has done his best to keep things light by telling a few jokes and even making up original nicknames.

“He’s actually really funny,” Bowden said. “Shannon and I are always together, so he gave us the nickname Shabbie.”

Although a clever nickname, “shabby” certainly shouldn’t be used to describe the divers’ performance.

Awards presented

Purdue’s Carrie McCambridge was named Big Ten diver of the year and diver of the championships for her first-place sweep of all three diving events.

Wisconsin’s Bethany Pendleton was named Big Ten swimmer of the year and swimmer of the championships.

Big Ten swimming coach of the year was Michigan’s Jim Richardson, and diving coach of the year was Purdue’s Wenbo Chen.