Missouri diving will take center stage at high-stakes NCAA qualifier

The Mizzou men’s and women’s diving teams have only one chance to qualify for the NCAA Championships later this month.
Courtesy of Mizzou Athletics Mizzou Athletics

With the Missouri swimmers completing their final meet of the season last weekend, it is time for the Missouri divers to take over the spotlight at this week’s NCAA Zone D Championships.

In meets throughout the regular season at Mizzou Aquatic Center, it was commonplace to find the majority of spectators’ attention focused on the swimming pools, with an occasional glance at the adjacent diving well.

Diving events such as the 1-meter and 3-meter competitions occur throughout meets, most times coming to an anti-climactic finish as the swimming events forge ahead.

In Minneapolis, though, attention will be on the springboards and diving platforms at the NCAA diving qualifier.

This is the meet that determines which divers from Division I schools across the country will join the swimmers at the NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio for the women, or Minneapolis, Minnesota for the men.

Despite the big stage, Missouri head diving coach James Sweeney measures success for his divers in their output of effort.

“We’re not a team that gets hyper-focused on outcomes,” Sweeney said. “We put all of our focus into the beauty of nice performances, one dive at a time until there are no more dives left. Then we’ll go see where we stacked up against everyone else.”

This philosophy has instilled a calmness in the Mizzou divers under pressure – something that’s important, considering the stakes will be higher than they have been at any point this season.

Sweeney described the immense pressure his divers will face this week, and have faced in competition already this season.

“The sport of diving is all about development,” Sweeney said. “It’s about the most unnatural thing for a human being to go 33 feet up in the air, run down a platform, throw their body off the end, do three and a half flips and try to go straight in.”

Senior Madeline McKernan hopes to use her experience and years of development to her advantage and treat this final meet the same way she would treat any other competition on the schedule.

“Honestly the biggest thing about this meet is just doing it the same way we’ve done everything throughout the year, because you don’t want to change or make a bigger deal out of it,” McKernan said. “If you treat it like another meet, it’ll be like every other meet.”

McKernan seems to be peaking at the right time, most recently placing third overall in the platform competition at the Southeastern Conference Championships.

The Texas native also hopes to lean on the support of the Mizzou women swimmers who have the week off from competition while she is vying for an NCAA bid.

“When I’m gone at Zones, I’ll probably get texts from multiple of [the women swimmers] cheering me on or telling me good job,” McKernan said. “[The women divers] are really close with the swimmers, which makes NCAAs so much more fun because we are one team.”

Junior diver Kyle Goodwin will lead the charge for the Mizzou men in Minneapolis this weekend.

Goodwin sees value in being rested going into the most important diving meet of the year.

“The only major difference is that I’m getting a little bit more rest in right now,” Goodwin said. “I’m backing off of weights and putting more emphasis on executing when the time comes, rather than putting a lot of repetition in.”

Goodwin has statistically been the most consistent male diver for Mizzou, being the only man to win a competition for the Tigers this season. Goodwin’s most recent result was a sixth place finish in the 1-meter competition at the SEC Championships.

Goodwin, McKernan and the Mizzou diving squads will compete March 5-7 in Minneapolis for a chance at qualifying for the NCAA Championships later this month.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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