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ND Swimming & Diving: Irish to send swimmers to NCAA qualifiers

Megan Golden | Thursday, March 10, 2011

The final practices are in the books, and the Irish are prepared to extend the seniors’ final season by bringing a solid performance to the NCAA Zone qualifying meet in Columbus, Ohio.

Eager to earn her spot in the NCAA meet, sophomore Jenny Chiang said the Irish are confident in the two women and four men from Notre Dame who will be competing in the zone meet.

“I think we have a very strong team between [senior] Heidi Grossman and I on the women’s side and [senior] Eric Lex, [senior] Nate Geary, [senior] Wes Villaflor and [sophomore] Ryan Koter on the men’s side. This may be one of the best teams our program has had,” she said.

Chiang said she and Grossman have worked the past several weeks to perfect their dives for the qualifying meet.

“In preparing for big meets, our practices usually change from doing a high quantity of a specific dives to about three to four each of multiple categories of dives and focus more on quality,” Chiang said. “This way we are able to practice all the dives we will be competing in the meet because by now we don’t need to be making big corrections on dives; we just need to make small changes in technique.”

Villaflor said the team gains confidence from improving their individual dives. He stressed the importance of displaying mental toughness in any high-pressure meet.

“After Big Easts we went to the basics to fix anything, all the minor stuff we could change. We’ve been doing each of our weak dives that haven’t been going as well,” Villaflor said. “[Improving] increases your confidence. Your mental state is really important and how you actually finish up. All four of us [men] have really been helping out during practice, whether giving out little tips or whatever.”

Notre Dame’s zone consists of talented squads from several schools, mainly within the Big East and the Big Ten.

“Our zone is one of the most competitive in the country, so there will be a lot of talented divers at OSU,” Grossman said. “Overall it will be a tough meet, as we have competed against these divers at past invitational and championship meets.”

The men’s squad is excited to compete against an elite Purdue diver with whom they have previously crossed paths in junior David Boudia.

“We’re competing with some of the best teams in the country. Purdue is really good and Indiana and OSU have one of the best teams we’ve seen. They have an Olympian at Purdue that we’ve seen a few times,” Villaflor said. “We’re all friends with each other, so it’s really great competition at zones.”

Villaflor has made an effort to make practice enjoyable by lightening the mood in the locker room, recognizing that the seniors are not guaranteed competition beyond this weekend.

“We range from some guys who are more serious to others who are more lighthearted. Personally, I’ve been trying to keep it really lighthearted. I try not to build up the pressure,” Villaflor said. “It’s difficult because this could be the seniors’ last two days of diving this weekend. You want to enjoy your potentially last couple days of the season.”

The Irish divers will begin fighting for a trip to the NCAA meet when they travel to Columbus Friday.