Feb. 26, 2013
BERKELEY -This story was written by Ching Tung, Cal Olympic Sports intern
As the Cal men's diving team prepares for Thursday's (Feb. 27) competition at the 2013 Pac-12 Diving Championships in Federal Way, Wash., the Golden Bears will be led by one of the youngest and most talented members of the squad, freshman standout Collin Pollard.
Pollard, who hails from San Jose and whose brother, Justin, excelled academically and lettered in 2007 and 2008 as a member of the Cal swimming team, has been coach Todd Mulzet's most successful diver this season and is looking to be the first Cal men's diver to qualify for the NCAA championships in six years.
As a freshman, Pollard won the one-meter springboard in a Nov. 3 dual meet against Wisconsin and again in a Feb. 8 contest against USC. While placing second at the Bruin Diving Invitational on the platform in January, he broke the six-year old Cal school record in the event with a mark of 332.95. Recently released by USA Diving, Pollard's name was on the list of qualifiers for the 2013 World Championships Trials, where the national organization will select the national team members for the 2013 World Diving Championships in Barcelona, Spain, and the World University Games in Kazan, Russia.
"Collin is a tremendously talented diver," said Mulzet. "He has the gift of being very consistent with his dives - there are very few misses, even on his off days. He can be exhausted and still perform at a very high level."
The judges seemed to agree at the Bruin Diving Invitational, which featured top teams from around the country, including several from the Pac-12. Pollard topped the previous Cal platform record of 320.30, set by Sam Helvie in 2007.
"It was a great feeling to do so well in Los Angeles for sure," says the 18-year old Pollard. "It's just the beginning of what I want to achieve here at Cal. I don't think I was diving my best at the Bruin Invite, and I'm looking forward to changing a couple of things for the next couple of weeks before the Zone E meet (March 14-16 in Colorado Springs)."
Pollard follows in his older brother Justin's footsteps in becoming a Bear, yet he has wasted no time in blazing his own winning trail on the boards. In Pollard's first collegiate dual meet, he handily won the one-meter springboard against Wisconsin with a score of 343.73. His performance at the Bruin Invite demonstrated his progress under Mulzet - who has been working with the young diver on putting together an increasingly challenging and technically difficult dive list.
"Collin came to this program knowing that he would be a top performer," said Mulzet. "I think his journey here has been a huge learning curve for him, in terms of adapting to the high performance training and understanding how to transition into life as a student-athlete at Cal."
Justin Pollard was ecstatic when Collin decided to attend Cal.
"Cal is a place that definitely challenges Collin to adapt and grow," said the older Pollard. "This program is a place where athletes are always asked to step it up to the next level, and it's a great opportunity for Collin to expand and meet the challenge."
Justin Pollard's achievements in the classroom were lauded by the athletic department as an excellent example of a successful Cal student-athlete, when he received the Alumni Leadership Scholarship and the team's Golden Bear award for having the highest GPA on the squad. Now, as the torch is passed on to his younger brother, Justin jokes that Collin is "already getting more attention than I ever did, athletically speaking."
"This is really a landmark year for the diving program to build on itself and achieve something special as a team," said Collin, who sees the team this year as forming the movement to attract top recruits. "We might not score the most, or have a lot of representation at the NCAAs, but divers in high school are going to take notice of how hard we work and how well we are supported at Cal."
"With Collin's achievements come expectations, and I have no doubt that Collin knew that coming in as a freshman," said Justin. "He's very mature in a lot of ways. He's ready to add to the swimming and diving dynamic and show that divers can be relied on to score points."
Pollard arrived at Cal with impressive goals: to place in finals at the Pac 12 meet and qualify for NCAAs. "But working with Todd has changed a lot of those goals," said Pollard. "Now that I've seen what standards are set for the aquatics programs, I know I can aim to go for top three on all boards at Pac 12. I don't just want to qualify for NCAAs. I want to be an All-American."
Mulzet agrees that Pollard has the skills to achieve national recognition.
"Our goal as a program is to perform well at Zones," said Mulzet. "That's the meet we need to excel to qualify for NCAAs. It's great to see some wins during dual meets, but our focus is on the big one."
The structure of NCAA diving is notably different from swimming. At the Division I level, schools are divided into five zones, which share and compete for 35 qualification spots to NCAAs. Cal, along with powerhouse programs from Arizona, Stanford, and Arizona State, will compete for eight spots in Zone E.
"Being in such a strong conference with divers like Kristian (Ipsen, Stanford), Rafael (Quintero, Arizona) and Harrison Jones (USC) means that getting to NCAAs will be extremely challenging, and Collin knows that," explained Mulzet. "Collin is definitely feeling the crunch with weeks to go until Zones. This is his chance to prove himself."
Mulzet is also quick to point out that while his program is led by the promising freshman, his returnees are also making progress of their own. Sophomore Tommy Selby was seven points off of the school record on the three-meter springboard when he won the event in a dual meet against Wisconsin earlier this season. Cal also returns junior Tyler Pullen, who was the Bears' top finisher in all events at the Pac-12 championships last year.
"The team as a whole is getting much stronger. It's a young squad, but producing these results definitely makes us work harder," said Mulzet. "This program has gone unrecognized for too long - we're looking forward to changing that. The proof will be in the pudding. We'll look at the results. We'll celebrate when we earn it."