Rutgers sends three divers to NCAAs after performance at Zones
The Rutgers swimming and diving team saw the capitalization of its hard work and successful season this week, as the team put forth a strong performance at the Zone Diving championships this week.
After moving up a rank and finishing ninth overall in the Big Ten championships a few weeks ago, the Scarlet Knights were represented by three divers — senior Alyssa Black, junior Addison Walkowiak and sophomore Rachel Byrne — to compete over the last few days down in Christiansburg, Virginia.
“For the whole team, we had a pretty good season,” Walkowiak said. “A lot of swimmers had lifetime bests, we really have improved since last year-moving up one spot in the Big Ten conference. The divers have done an unbelievable job all season."
The Zone Diving championships ran from Monday to Wednesday this week, setting up diving qualifiers to go to the NCAA championships.
After the performances these past two weeks, the Knights will be represented by five student-athletes at the NCAAs, which is the most for the program in the last 10 seasons.
Divers Black, Byrne, and Walkowiak, and international sophomore swimmers Vera Koprivova and Francesca Stoppa will all travel to Indianapolis, Indiana for the final meet of the season.
“We have two swimmers and three divers, which is probably one of the largest groups going to NCAAs since I don’t know, 2008, so this is huge for our program,” said head coach Petra Martin. “With where we are going, and which direction we are heading, so I am super excited about this.”
In Zone action, Black and Walkowiak qualified for NCAAs after both finishing in the top seven of the 3-meter dive final. Walkowiak finished second with a score of 640.45, while Black was not far behind with a 607.75 score, good for fourth in the event.
Black and Walkowiak then teamed up for a one-two finish in the 1-meter dive, qualifying them again for NCAAs. Walkowiak finished the dive in first with a 597.75 score and Black was right behind her with a 580.75 finish.
In the last day of action, Walkowiak and Byrne went to the platform dive, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, qualifying them both for NCAAs. Walkowiak finished with a 444.70 score, while Byrne finished one spot behind her with a 434.35 score.
“Having us three (divers) qualify for nationals just shows how hard we’ve all been working,” Walkowiak said.
For Rutgers swimming, Koprivova will represent the Knights in the 200 backstroke, while Stoppa will do the same in the 100 and 200 butterfly.
Koprivova and Stoppa contributed three individual school records at the Big Ten’s last month and added to another program record they were a part of in the 400-medley relay.
“The whole team did an amazing job this whole year,” Stoppa said. “We worked so hard in the pool and in the weight room. I’m really excited to see all of us competing next week and some of us cheering for us."
Koprivova finished the 200 backstroke in 1:53.94, while Stoppa finished the 100 and 200 butterfly in 53.16 and 1:56.20.
Black, Walkowiak and Stoppa will be returning to the NCAA’s after attending last year, while Byrne and Koprivova will be making their first appearances for Rutgers. This is the fifth year in a row that the Knights have sent an athlete to NCAAs.
The NCAA championships will be held from March 15-18 and will be streamed on NCAA.com during the first two days, then switch to ESPN3 on the final two days of the event.
“Something I’d really like to stress is that it’s not just these five people that are doing great things,” Martin said. “Getting up to this point requires a lot effort from everybody, this is the success of the whole team. These athletes can’t get to this level without the support of their teammates, without training with them every day, and relying on them to push them every day."
The team total of 24 student-athletes, 19 swimmers and five divers, have a hard working and supportive staff behind them day in and day out.
Lead by head coach Martin, the staff includes head diving coach Fred Woodruff, assistant coach Tracy Menzel, volunteer assistant Charlie Dragon, assistant athletic trainer Micaiah Corley, coordinator of swimming operations Morgan Hofacker and assistant strength and conditioning coach Kevin Backus. The athlete’s academics are advised and supervised by Sheryl Spain and John Paxton.
“I want to make sure everybody gets recognition,” Martin said. “It’s about the whole village that’s supporting everyone.”
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