Knife in the Water
The pressure that Tufts sophomore Johann Schmidt faced on his final dive in the one-meter competition at the NCAA Championships on March 23 can’t be exaggerated.
The men’s field at the 2012 NCAA Division III Diving Championships, held at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, was the toughest in many years—maybe ever, says longtime Tufts diving coach Brad Snodgrass. There were five or six divers who easily could have won.
Earlier in the week, Schmidt placed fifth in the three-meter event—the high board—which is his strength. That gave him a boost in confidence that was evident in the preliminaries for the one-meter competition. He nailed almost every dive and finished first, but not by a wide margin. To duplicate his effort in the 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 the one-meter at last year’s NCAAs in Tennessee. He had hit the board during the one-meter prelims, bumping him out of the finals. Still, he came back and finished strong.
In this year’s NCAA one-meter finals, Snodgrass and Schmidt focused solely on what could be controlled: tuning out the judges’ scores, the leader board and the competition, the crowd and even his earlier dives. The key was to execute his six dives, one dive 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 says. “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 Denison hit his dive to move into first place. Schmidt needed a big dive and high scores to capture the championship. His last dive, a reverse one-and-a-half somersaults with one-and-a-half twists, 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,” Snodgrass says, “but I knew he was in the zone and it wouldn’t have mattered what I 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 won the one-meter national championship, scoring 527.35 points to defeat Dixon from Denison by more than 20 points. He is the first Tufts men’s national champion in swimming and diving since 1982, when Keith Miller, A82, won the NCAA three-meter diving title, and Jim Lilley, A82, was the national champion in the 100-meter butterfly.
“It was the most dramatic finish to a contest I’ve ever been a part of,” Snodgrass says. “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.”
Just Having Fun
Even now, Schmidt says it all seems like a dream.
“I had never thought I would win a national championship,” he says. “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 in the few weeks leading up to NCAAs.
“I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to do well this year, because of how I placed last year,” he says. “Yet when I arrived in Indianapolis, 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.”
He says the support he received before, during and after the championships was overwhelming. “After my last dive, I saw the score, and I was ecstatic,” he says. “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.”
Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.