Johann Schmidt, A14, will defend his title and try for another later this week in Houston
In athletic competition, experience matters, even more so when you’re the reigning national champion.
As Johann Schmidt, A14, prepares to defend his 1-meter diving title at the NCAA Division III national championships in Houston on March 21, and then, two days later, go for the 3-meter-board crown, he’s let go of some of the struggles he faced last season.
“I really think it’s [about] taking one day at a time,” Schmidt says of his approach to this year’s national meet. “Last year I looked too much ahead. You really need to take it one dive at a time. You can’t think about the future. You can’t do that in diving. You could hit the board. Anything could happen.”
In the run-up to this year’s nationals, Schmidt has been nothing short of impressive. In February, he earned back-to-back 600-point scores in the 1- and 3-meter events at the Wheaton Invitational, breaking his own school records, and then won the 3-meter event at the NESCAC conference championship and was named NESCAC Diver of the Year. March began with twin victories at the NCAA regional championships in Springfield, Mass., where Schmidt claimed the 1- and 3-meter titles—and automatic berths in both events at nationals.
It’s a pile of accolades that might seem way too easy. But in the two weeks before nationals, there is no room for complacency and no dwelling on past laurels. Schmidt, who’s majoring in biopsychology, has worked hard to stay at the top of his game.
“We’re trying to keep it going,” says Tufts diving coach Brad Snodgrass. “Is he diving as well as he was a month ago? Probably no, not right now. But he’s in the same boat that almost every other diver is in. There’s a big buildup toward the conference meet. There’s a big letdown after that, and you’ve got to try to keep it going for a couple more weeks for nationals. It’s really, really tough.”
The break between competitions is a tempting opportunity for a diver to get lost in what’s next, about possibly the biggest moment of his diving career. This time last year, Schmidt admits, the pressure was immense, and his nerves got to him. This year that national experience has kicked in: he’s been careful not to overtrain. He’s maintaining his perspective and staying loose in practice.
“Right now, I’m trying to not think about it too much,” he says. “The week before is always stressful. I haven’t even thought about it. My expectation is similar to last year—just to do the best I can.”
Kelvin Ma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.