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Rutgers qualifies 2 divers for NCAA Championships

Four Knights will represent Rutgers in Columbus, Ohio

The Rutgers swimming and diving team will officially send four Scarlet Knights to the NCAA Championships after junior Rachel Byrne and senior Addison Walkowiak qualified for the championship on Wednesday.

Last week, the swimmers were informed of whether they qualified for the NCAA Championships based on their performance throughout the year. Freshman Sveva Schiazzano and junior Francesca Stoppa were both given the nod for the championships based on their performances throughout the season. 

The divers, on the other hand, had to wait until this week to compete at the NCAA Zone Diving Championships if they wanted to punch their ticket to Columbus. The Zone A Championships was held at the Rutgers Aquatic Center in Piscataway this week. 

Byrne and Walkowiak spent a long time preparing for this competition, even sitting out of the ECAC Championships a week prior in order to get extra rest time for the competition. Clearly, the preparation paid off for them. 

Walkowiak punched her ticket to Ohio early in the Championships, and in a dominant fashion. On Monday, she won the Zone A 1-meter diving title for the second straight year. 

While the top six divers in the event would automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships, Walkowiak was not satisfied finishing in the top six. She wanted to defend her crown. 

Walkowiak placed at the top spot in the finals following her score of 303.45, which she later one-upped in the final with a mark of 322.10. This gave her a total score of 625.55, blowing the runner-up score of 581.40 out of the water.

Later in the competition, Walkowiak placed as the runner-up on the 3-meter boards and placed ninth in the platform diving with a 10-dive score of 414.65, which qualifies as an NCAA B standard finish.

Walkowiak will now compete in all three diving events on the national stage for the third consecutive year. This will be her fourth time competing in the NCAA Championships.

Diving head coach Frederick Woodruff was absolutely effusive in his praise of the Ballston Spa, New York native.

"She dives like a champion," Woodruff said, according to scarletknights.com. "She missed one dive because she was a foot off on the board for her hurdle, but other than that, it was an amazing effort. She got over it, laughed it off and walked away with the meet. That's an experienced diver."

But Walkowiak wasn’t the only one who had a strong weekend in Piscataway, as Byrne had a formidable showing this week as well. 

Byrne’s week did not start off perfectly. After qualifying for the 1-meter finals after placing sixth in the prelims, Byrne posted a combined final score of 522.0, placing eighth in the event overall. She was just 7 points off of an NCAA qualification. 

Woodruff was still extremely pleased with her performance and saw it as a building block for the rest of the week.

"She came so close," Woodruff said, according to scarletknights.com. "We're extremely happy with Rachel's performance. She even surprised herself with how close she came. It sets her up for the rest of the week."

Woodruff turned out to be correct. Byrne’s finish in the 1-meter diving was an NCAA B cut, so if she managed to qualify for the NCAA Championships with an A cut in one of the other events, she would be able to compete on the 1-meter boards at the NCAA Championships.

Byrne did just that in the platform diving. She finished the preliminary dives in fourth place. With only 5 of the 14 competing in the event being able to advance to the NCAA Championships, Byrne was on the bubble. 

But, she increased her score down the stretch and ended up finishing as the runner-up in the event with a total score of 489.45. This qualified her for the NCAA Championships for the second straight year, where she will compete in platform diving and 1-meter diving. 

Byrne and Walkowiak, along with swimmers Schiazzano and Stoppa, will compete at the 2018 NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships from March 15-17 in Columbus, Ohio, hosted by Ohio State at the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion. 

For updates on the Rutgers swimming and diving team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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