Big Ten Senior Spotlight: Manny Pollard of the University of Minnesota

While there certainly are more swimming events than diving events in most collegiate competitions, programs are called “swimming & diving” teams for a reason. Divers can provide crucial points in regular dual meets, and their role is amplified even further during Championship Season when every last point is necessary to help ascertain final team standings. Up next in our Senior Spotlight series we have our first diver that has ever been featured, and Manny Pollard out of Troy, New York will be one of Minnesota’s most valuable assets over the course of the next month.

Before joining the Golden Gophers for his freshman season, Pollard was a successful diver in New York’s Section II division. Competing for Albany Academy in the 11-dive format, Pollard would shatter an 11-year-old state record with his performance at the Section II Championships in 2012. His score of 635.75 took down the previous standard of 611.85 points from 2000. Perhaps what is most remarkable about Pollard’s achievement is the manner in which he secured the record, as he finished with a dive with a degree of difficult of 3.1. Whereas many divers often elect to conclude competitions with an easier dive to better their chances of having a stable finish, Pollard opted for the high-risk high-reward route, a decision that surely would have caught the eye of Minnesota Diving Coach Wenbo Chen.

As a freshman with Minnesota, Pollard would rise to the occasion admirably at the end of the season, recording finishes of 4th on 1m ( score of 360.45), 15th on 3m (354.10), and 9th on Platform (390.00), all setting personal bests in the process. Furthermore, two weeks later at the Zone D Diving Championships (where a 6-dive prelims score is combined with a 6-dive finals score), Manny would also follow up with finishes of 6th on 1m (678.90), 18th on 3m (604.40), and 4th on Platform (681.90)

Returning for his sophomore season with the Golden Gophers, Pollard would begin to show off his ability to constantly improve as an athlete. At the Big Ten Championships, Pollard would secure finishes of 6th on 1m (343.95), 9th on 3m (373.75), and 3rd on Platform (394.00). He would leave Ann Arbor with a total of 38 points scored at the meet, an almost 50% jump from the 26 points he scored the previous year. Additionally, he dove to career best finishes at Zones once again with final placings of 11th on 1m (715.70), 4th on 3m (815.45), and 4th on Platform (798.50).

Though his first two seasons with Minnesota were fantastic in their own right, Pollard really broke out during his junior year. At the 2015 Big Ten Championships, he would grab 7th on 1m (347.90), 7th on 3m (398.70), and 9th on platform (397.10), combining for 33 points overall, a career-high. While he was very good in Iowa, he was even better at Zones, finishing 5th on 1m (740.15), 6th on 5m (770.90), and 5th on Platform (721.50).

With his efforts at the Zone D Championships, Pollard would earn an invite to the NCAA Championships just a few weeks later. At his National Championships debut, Manny would deliver finishes of 11th on 1m (360.40) and 20th on Platform (345.70) before scratching from the 3m event due to an injury. Notably, his 1m performance earned him Honorable Mention All-American honors for the first time in his career.

With his ability to consistently perform well at the end of the year, Manny Pollard will have plenty of confidence to work with has he steps on the boards one last time at Conference this week. Though Zones is typically the focus of most divers, Pollard has never been one to hold back when points for his team are on the line, and if he is able to continue the trend that he established over his first three seasons, the Gophers could find themselves with a nice boost on the boards this time around.

Top Scores:
1m – 407.65 – 2014
3m – 411.55 – 2014
Platform – 412.00 – 2014

School Major/Degree:  Psychology, Minor in Communications
Favorite Event: 1M Diving, the closer to the water the better.
Favorite Hobby: I really enjoy dancing and speaking Mandarin Chinese
Favorite Movie: Surf’s Up
Person You’d Like to Meet Growing Up: Poseidon or Matt Dempsey
Favorite Food/ Pre-Race Meal: Chicken Tortellini from Panera Bread

At what age did you become involved with diving? How did you get into it?

I began the sport of diving during my freshman year of high school. In the summer my mother signed me up for several sports camps because I was a very energetic child, diving being one of them. Hearing this, my high school coach sought me out on the first day of school and forced me to join the team, saying it would be good for my future. As much as I don’t want to admit it, it was definitely a great decision. The sport has given me several opportunities that I would not otherwise be able to have access to.

What is your favorite collegiate diving memory and why? 

My favorite collegiate diving memory for myself was my first Big Tens in Indiana. I achieved a personal best on all three boards and even got 4th place on one meter. Being a freshman I didn’t realize how impressive that is, but growing through the years I realized how great that was, and why my coach was so proud of me then.

You have improved dramatically each year at Minnesota. Your freshman year culminated in 26 points scored at Big Tens, your sophomore year concluded with 38 points scored at Big Tens and a 4th place finish at Zones, and finally, your junior year saw you compete at NCAAs and take 13th on 1m and 20th on platform. Though most of our readers have an understanding of how swimmers progress during their NCAA careers, diving is a bit more foreign to many of us. Can you describe what is necessary for a diver to continuously improve throughout his/her diving career like you did?

It is actually very hard to keep a steady improvement rate. In diving injuries can happen at any time, and can really hinder your training. I would say that staying healthy is very crucial for college athletes considering the four years you have on the team can fly by so quickly. Even when you are injured, having a strong motivation and drive can still do wonders in your recovery process. Also summer training is very important for divers, at least keeping that muscle memory can truly help.

At last year’s NCAA Championships, you sustained an injury during the 3m competition. Injuries are tough for all athletes to endure, but you have recovered admirably with multiple top 3 finishes at the Georgia Tech Invite in November and three top 10 finishes at the Georgia Diving Invitational just last month. Can you tell us what that it was like to recover from that injury, and how has it helped motivate you for your final Championship Season with the Golden Gophers?

Well its funny because that injury was hard to overcome because I have never done anything like that before, especially in competition. Also sustaining an injury on my ankle on the FIRST day of training last September made it a hard start to the year for me. But I have goals that I want to achieve and accomplish before I throw in the towel, so I think trying my best has kept my motivation going.

What/who do you think has been the single most important catalyst to your diving career?

I think the most important catalyst has definitely been my coach Wenbo Chen and former teammate Kelci Bryant. Coming in freshman year, I would say our relationship was a little rough with Wenbo. But as the years went on we definitely have improved out relationship tenfold. I can approach him with anything and we can figure out what’s been going on with whatever I have been having a problem with. For Kelci, I could go to her for anything, she is a great friend and mentor and has given me some key advice about how to succeed. I would call my coach and my (former and current) teammates family, and having them, I would not be where I am in the sport.

Do you have any plans/commitments following the completion of your collegiate career?

Well, I have a lot of plans. Athletically, I am currently in the process of deciding whether or not I should compete in the 2016 Olympic Trials. I qualified on 3m and platform. I am very eager to start a new chapter in my life. After my collegiate career is over I want to go to China, live and work there for a few years before returning. If not, I just plan on getting a job and attending grad school after a number of years so that I can become a psychotherapist. On top of that, I want to continue being in the sport of diving, and would like to do some coaching somewhere.

What should we look forward to from Minnesota as a whole at this year’s Big Ten Championships?

Minnesota has been working hard on the boards this year, extremely hard and we plan on not holding anything back this year at conference. We as a team are very excited to show the Big Ten and the nation how strong of a team the Gophers truly are. Go Gophers!!

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Kim Williams

Great Job Manny!!

Coach Mike Murray

Way to make all us Academy Alums SO PROUD! Congrats Manny, keep it up!

About Varun Shivakumar

Varun Shivakumar hails from Hoffman Estates, IL and swam competitively for 16 years. He swam both backstroke events at Northwestern University, and ranks fifth in the school’s All-time performances list in the 200 yard backstroke. Representing NASA Wildcat Aquatics, he also competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha, NE …

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