Nationals bound

CMU swimmers and divers set out for Birmingham

Colorado Mesa University’s Brock Martin practices a dive off of the high board at the El Pomar Natatorium.



Brock Martin didn’t add anything new to his repertoire this season.

The Colorado Mesa University junior focused on improving the dives he already has.

Now, he’s looking to make it pay off this week at the NCAA Division II Swimming & Diving National Championships in Birmingham, Ala.

“I had a great season, my best so far,” Martin said. “I’m stronger this year. The training was different, which helped me a lot. I like the CrossFit. We don’t need to be lifting. We don’t need big, bulky shoulders, but CrossFit is mostly your own body weight, which is perfect for diving.”

Martin is one of four Colorado Mesa divers who qualified for nationals, along with swimmers Mehdi El Hazzaz and Briana Purkapile.

Divers must place in the top 16 in a prequalification competition today to compete in trials through the week.

“They have to be mentally prepared,” CMU swimming and diving head coach Ron Allen said. “They have what it takes to make it through the prequalification meet as long as they are consistent. If they don’t get overly excited, they’ll be fine.”

The national championships begin with preliminary swims at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The meet continues through Saturday.

“I want to take top six,” Martin said. “I didn’t get it last year, but I really want to get it this year. My coach (Chuck Edgar) said I have the ability to do it. I’m more powerful than I have been in the past.

“To hear him say that helps me a lot.”

Martin placed ninth in the 3-meter dive and earned honorable mention All-American, and he was seventh in the 1-meter, achieving All-America status, which goes to the top eight finishers.

“I want to do better than I have in the past,” Martin said. “I feel like top six is a manageable goal. If I get top three, that would be great, too, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”

Diving teammate Ryan Popp qualified for the national meet for the first time this season.

“I’m pretty stoked about it,” Popp said. “I want to do my best this year and lay down the ground work for the next three years.”

The sophomore competed against Martin in high school and came to Mesa on Martin’s advice.

“I’m really excited for (Popp),” Martin said. “It’s going to be nice having a (male) teammate with me. This will be his biggest meet of his life. It’s a lot of pressure, but I believe in him.”

Sophomore divers Amanda Jennings and Savannah Craft qualified for the second consecutive year, and they are looking to put the first-time nerves of last year behind them.

“I was nervous just being there,” Jennings said. “I kind of choked at nationals. … I made it past prequalification, but in the actual meet, I choked.”

“It was extremely overwhelming,” Craft said. “I was a little baby freshman, and many freshmen don’t make it. I didn’t know what I was walking into at all.

“This year, we know what to expect. I’m hoping that plays a key part.”

Jennings scored high enough in the 3-meter and 1-meter dives in the prequalification last year to compete, but she didn’t place.

Craft didn’t make it out of the prequalification last year.

“I don’t really care what place I get. As long as I make it past pre-quals, I’ll be happy,” Craft said. “You can’t think about the other divers. You’ve still got to do what you’ve got to do.”

El Hazzaz and Purkapile qualified for nationals for the first time in their collegiate careers.

El Hazzaz, a freshman from Morocco, qualified in the 50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyles. He had an A cut in the 200 freestyle.

“This is what he expected,” Allen said. “His confidence level is superb. He knows his potential, and he was very confident that’s what he could do. His first comment to me after the 200 freestyle was, ‘I knew I could make that A cut.’ “

El Hazzaz set the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference record in the 200 freestyle, but it was broken later that same day. He is ranked 12th in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1 minute, 37.9 seconds.

“I think if he swims just as fast as he did, he’ll have a good shot at making top eight with that time,” Allen said. “If he goes faster, he could be hunting for one of those top three spots.”

El Hazzaz is less than a second off a top-three spot going into nationals. If he can find a way to win the national title, Allen promised he’d shave his head.

Purkapile qualified for nationals in the 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly.

“She is the epitome of a hard worker,” Allen said. “She is reaping the benefits of exactly what she put into it.”

The junior is ranked 14th in the 200 IM with a time of 2:05.66, which is less than a second off the top eight entering the meet.

“She worked on her weak stroke, the breaststroke, so hard this year. That was the biggest payoff,” Allen said. “In fact, it’s no longer a weakness for her. It’s one of her strengths. I think that was the difference for making nationals this year.”


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