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Schmidt becomes Tufts' first national diving champ in 30 years

Posted by Susannah Blair  March 29, 2012 10:03 AM

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The following was submitted by Tufts University:

The pressure that Tufts sophomore diver Johann Schmidt (Nanuet, NY) faced on his final dive in the one-meter competition at the NCAA Championships last Friday (March 23) can't be exaggerated.

3603342201.jpgAccording to longtime Tufts diving coach Brad Snodgrass, the men's field for the 2012 NCAA Division III Diving Championships was the toughest in many years - maybe ever.  There were five or six divers who easily could have won the competition.

Earlier in the week on Wednesday, Schmidt placed fifth in the three-meter event (high board), which is his strength. That gave him a boost in confidence that was evident in the preliminaries for one-meter on Friday. He nailed almost every dive and finished first, but not by a wide margin. To duplicate his effort in finals that night would be very challenging.

This was the second straight year that Schmidt had won New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) titles off both boards and qualified for Nationals. He was fifth in the three-meter event and 12th in one-meter at last year's NCAA's in Tennessee. He had hit the board during one-meter prelims which bumped him out of the finals. He still came back and finished strong, showing his strength as a competitor.

In the 2012 NCAA one-meter finals, Coach Snodgrass and Schmidt worked on focusing only on what could be controlled - tuning out the judges' scores, the leader board and the competition, the crowd and even his previous dives. The key was to execute his six dives, one at a time. His first dive was good, his second OK, but not great. Then he nailed his reverse one-and-a-half pike, the same dive he hit the board on last year.

"After that dive, I really thought Johann had a chance to win it, but I took my own advice and didn't look at the scoreboard," Snodgrass said. "As the winner of the prelims, Johann was diving last in the order, and had to follow the other divers, who were for the most part nailing their dives too."

In the last round, Dave Dixson from Dennison hit his dive to move into first place. Schmidt needed a big dive and high scores to win. His last dive would be a reverse one-and-a-half somersaults with one-and-a-half twists, a dive that had been giving him some trouble all season.  He had done a lot of extra work on the dive and made some big improvements.

"I told him to go big and be aggressive, which is just coaching babble when you don't know what else to say, but I knew he was in the zone and it wouldn't have mattered what I said," Snodgrass said. "You could hear a pin drop as he began his approach and his dive looked real good in the air."

Schmidt nailed the entry and got 9's from most judges, scoring almost 70 points on his last dive to win the one-meter national championship. He became the first Jumbo national champion since 1982, when Keith Miller won the NCAA three-meter diving title and Jim Lilley was the national champion in the 100 butterfly.

"It was the most dramatic finish to a contest I've ever been a part of," Snodgrass said. "It was such a well-deserved victory and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy than Johann.  He's the real deal and we're very, very proud of him."

For Schmidt, it all seems like a dream.

"I had never intended or thought I would win a national championship," he said. "My goal this year was to be top-eight on both boards and have fun. To be called a national champion feels unreal. When I went to bed, and woke up the next morning, that's when I knew it was not a dream. It still feels somewhat unreal."

After a strong performance at the NESCAC meet February 24-26, he had some difficulty practicing on his own in the few weeks leading up to NCAA's.

"I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to do well this year because of how I placed last year," he said. "Yet, when I arrived in Indianapolis (host city of the 2012 national championships), I realized I was there to have fun and show off my diving. There were no true expectations except to dive the best that I could and have fun."

The support he received before, during and after the NCAA meet was overwhelming.

"After my last dive, I saw the score, and I was ecstatic," he said. "I had no idea what to feel. I walked over to Brad, Coach (men's coach Adam Hoyt), Nancy (women's coach Nancy Bigelow) and my teammates and cried in their arms. It was very emotional. I looked up at my mom and she was jumping up and down. My parents were so excited because I know they were not expecting it either. I could not have done it without all of these people. It is truly an amazing feeling and I am so thankful."

Competing at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), Schmidt recorded a score of 527.35 points in the one-meter finals to defeat Dixon from Denison (506.30) by more than 20 points. Schmidt now owns three All-American awards and one honorable mention All-American honor.

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