University of Minnesota
Before coming to the University of Minnesota, Kelci Bryant competed at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing in the springboard synchronized 3-meter with then-partner Ariel Rittenhouse under U diving coach Wenbo Chen. The duo finished fourth at the event. In Bryant's first season at the U, she has been named Big Ten Diver of the Year.
Photo: courtesy University Athletics
Making a splash
Diver Kelci Bryant finds a new home—and makes her mark—at the U
By Rick Moore
A year ago at this time, the University of Minnesota was hardly on Kelci Bryant’s radar.
Sure, the Illinois native had competed at the U’s Aquatic Center a couple of times, but she was fresh off a semester at the University of Miami, and before that she had dived in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, placing fourth in the synchronized 3-meter springboard event. “Ski-U-Mah” was not in her vocabulary.
But when her U.S. diving coach, Wenbo Chen, became the diving coach at the University of Minnesota last spring, Bryant decided to bring her considerable talents to Minneapolis to remain under his tutelage.
It wasn’t exactly a 3-meter leap of faith, but it was certainly a journey into the unknown.
“I definitely didn’t know how to get around when I first got here, but I knew the pool and I knew where the Radisson was, because that’s where I always stayed,” Bryant laughs. “And I love Jamba Juice, so when I found out they had it [on campus], I was excited.”
By the numbers
According to Bryant’s bio, her favorite dive is a 205B—a back two-and-a-half somersault in a pike position (arms around extended legs)—which she says she’s been doing since she was 14. (For the industrious, there are some great YouTube videos of her nailing that dive.)
It turns out Bryant’s new favorite dive is a front three-and-a-half pike (a 107B for those in the know), in part because it’s her highest degree-of-difficulty dive, and also because it’s something she’s worked hard to master.
“It’s a good feeling when you’ve been working on a dive for so long, and you go under water and you realize, ‘Wow, I finally can do it.’”
She has brought another level of excitement to an already strong Minnesota swimming and diving team. The 10th-ranked Gophers recently finished second in the Big Ten Championships. Bryant set a Big Ten Championship meet record with a score of 348.20 in the finals of the 1-meter event, and she was named the Big Ten Diver of the Year and of the Championship.
Her next step is the NCAA Zone Diving competition March 12-14, the competition that qualifies divers for the NCAA Championships the following week.
While Bryant has both feet planted firmly on the springboard at the Aquatic Center, she also has her eyes on the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“Right now, I think the main thing is balancing training for both the college meets and the international-level and national-level meets for diving,” she says.
Does she feel less pressure diving in a Big Ten meet, far removed from the Olympic spotlight?
“There’s actually more pressure, I feel,” she says. “Maybe it’s just because it’s something new, but at Big Tens I wasn’t just competing for me, I was competing for my team.”
Despite her international diving resume and Olympic experience, Bryant says she was especially concerned with finding her place among her new Gopher teammates, a task made more daunting with her self-proclaimed initial shyness.
“It was weird because all these girls were my age but they already had their group of friends, and I just felt really intimidated by it. I felt like I missed out on the first two years I should have bonded with them.” But, she adds, “They’ve definitely welcomed me with open arms.”
Nowhere was that more apparent than at the recent Big Ten Championships at West Lafayette, Indiana, when Bryant’s teammates stuck around well after their swimming events to watch her perform. One particular moment—as she was introduced before the diving finals—stands out.
“I have my [teammates watching] across the pool, and Paige Bradley, one of the swimmers, starts this cheer they call the Hawaii Cheer,” Bryant says. “I had the whole swim team and a lot of their parents in the stands and they were doing that cheer. And I’ve just never felt like I’ve had that many people behind me, supporting me."