Junior Johann Schmidt headed to Shenandoah, Texas, this weekend to compete in his third NCAA Championship. Entering the meet as a three-time All-American and as the reigning champion on the 1-meter board, Schmidt was clearly a favorite for both boards, and he did not disappoint.
The meet started out promisingly on Thursday, opening with the 1-meter board, where Schmidt had the best score at the end of the preliminary round. The junior continued his strong performance on his first two dives in the final round and was one dive away from clinching a second straight national title.
However, a small slip-up on the hurdle caused him to overrate as he entered the pool, moving him down four spots to fifth in the extremely competitive meet, leaving the title to freshman Ben Lewis of Denison.
“After [the] 1-meter, I was somewhat upset because I know I could have won, but I had to focus on [the] 3-meter and do my best on that board,” Schmidt said after the meet. “It was extremely difficult, though, because I was physically and mentally tired and my lower back was in pain.”
Despite being known for the consistency of both his attitude and performance, Schmidt faced the biggest challenge of his collegiate career. The negative momentum from the previous day carried over to the preliminary rounds in the 3-meter. After the first three dives, it looked as if Schmidt would end his year watching the finals from the sidelines.
“I was almost ready to give up,” Schmidt admitted. “I looked up at my parents and talked to [Coach Brad Snodgrass], and I realized I needed to relax and just do the best I could for me.”
With little hope of the top-eight finish he needed to reach the finals, Schmidt decided he would simply “relax and have fun” for his final qualifying dives.
Neither he nor his cheering section could believe it when he sneaked into the finals with the sixth best score, just seven points ahead of the ninth-place finisher.
And just as quickly as his confidence was derailed, Schmidt’s unexpected surge set him up well for the Saturday final.
“I just wanted to put on a show and do the dives better than I have,” Schmidt said. “I had nothing to lose after a crazy comeback, so I just went out and had fun.”
He ended the meet with a strong showing in the finals, good enough for third place behind sophomore William Guedes of Kalamazoo College. For what was clearly a roller coaster of a meet, Schmidt ended his season on a high note, adding two more All-American honors to bring his career total to five (plus one honorable mention).
As the only Jumbo competing at NCAAs, he was responsible for all 30 of Tufts’ points, which placed the team in 27th. Kenyon College won the meet with 499.5 points for its 32nd national title.
For Schmidt, the meet ended another long, successful season. However, when asked about what he looked forward to for the off-season, the tired diver couldn’t help but joke about the strain of this year’s campaign.
“I cannot wait to have a life back,” he said.