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Men’s Swimming and Diving: Kreft silently leads the way

Megan Golden | Monday, January 23, 2012

Just two months after attending his first college class, freshman diver Michael Kreft began turning heads with his standout performances. One of 16 freshmen on the team, it took little time for Kreft’s teammates to learn his name.

Kreft showed up for his first few practices and was nearly silent. His ability to focus on the task at hand, his teammates say, separated him from other elite divers.

“In the beginning of the year, I would come to practice and I wouldn’t notice that I was [so quiet]. I wouldn’t talk to anybody, and they took it as [me] being rude,” Kreft said. “It became my common practice to just get inside myself while I was training. My teammates thought that I was ignoring them, but it really isn’t like that at all. When I go, I have a job to do, and I just like to focus on it.”

The diver’s teammates did not have a problem with Kreft’s silence after they saw the result of such intense internal reflection during training.

Kreft won gold medals on both the one-meter and three-meter boards against Pittsburgh, the first road meet of the 19-year-old’s career. Nearly two weeks later, Kreft finished in first on the one-meter and three-meter boards for the second time at Louisville.

“I’ve always been uncomfortable kind of talking about achievements and things like that. I naturally want to let my performance speak for me,” Kreft said.

“I can’t say that I go into every meet thinking that I’m going to come out on top. I just go in, and I want to do good dives that I feel good about. If I do that, a lot of times I will come out on top. I want to show what I have and just kind of be done with it.”

A former baseball and soccer player, Kreft did not make the typical transition from gymnastics to diving. He began diving around the age of 10 and has since become the model of a mentally-tough athlete.

The pressure involved in leading a collegiate diving team may get to the average athlete’s head, but Kreft has consciously chosen to eliminate negative thoughts and remain confident.

“I used to be the most insecure competitor that you could find. [As a kid], I dreaded competition-based [diving], and now I look forward to it,” Kreft said. “I’ve learned to love the feeling I get. You can’t get that feeling in practice, the butterfly feeling. You can also do things when you feel that way that you could never do anywhere else. The adrenaline can make you perform in a way that you couldn’t get yourself to do those things in practice.”

Kreft said it was simply a matter of time before he gained confidence, which ultimately plays a huge role in the sport of diving.

“I’ve kind of learned to love [the adrenaline], and it’s kind of given me confidence,” he said. “I like [competing].

Some people are born with confidence, and other people it takes a long time, and I was one of those people.”

Immediately shying away from praise and rejecting any mention of being the top diver on the squad, Kreft said his fellow teammates deserve equally as much credit for the team’s success this season.

“It’s not like I’m winning every time. It’s not always like that,” he said. “My teammate [freshman Nick Nemetz] won both of them [Saturday]. In diving, it really just depends on the day. On those days [that I won], I was focused enough where I could assess the situation and know exactly what I needed to do.”

Kreft arrived at Notre Dame with the goal of qualifying for the NCAA Zone Diving Championships. Surprising nobody affiliated with the Notre Dame diving program, those qualifying scores came on Jan. 14, against Northwestern.

Qualifying for the Zone meet is the only way an Irish diver can advance to the NCAA Championship. Kreft will join Nemetz in the Big 10 Zone on March 9.

“The zone meet is the toughest NCAA competition of the year prior to the national championship,” Irish coach

Tim Welsh said. “For [Michael] to qualify is special. It’s a really, really good sign of their development as collegiate divers. Whether [he advances] out of the zone and competes in NCAAs, [competing] at that level is an accomplishment.”

Kreft said his approach never changes, and he is thankful for the chance to compete among the most elite divers in the country.

“I just always try to remember the reason why I do the sport that I do, and that’s because I enjoy the actual activity of the flipping and the adrenaline rush that I get,” Kreft said. “When I get caught up in the results, the anxiety, the competition and things like that, I try to throw myself back to why I’m here in the first place.”

The Irish will host the Shamrock Invitational on Friday at Rolfs Aquatic Center.



Contact Megan Golden at [email protected]’s.com