Rider Sending Five to NCAA Zones
BLACKSBURG, Va.—March Madness is about to begin for five divers and the pool that they are competing in, is perfectly legal and will hopefully lead to the NCAA Championships.
The Rider University swimming and diving team is sending five divers to Virginia Tech. March 10-12, to compete at the NCAA Zone ‘A’ diving meet with the chance to advance to the NCAA Championships in late March.
The competition will take place at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center.
Competing for the Bronc women are sophomore Emma Billerbeck (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale), freshman Heather Lonkert (Moon Township, Pa./Moon Area) and freshman Kelly Toner (Fort Washington, Pa./Upper Dublin).
“This should be a great experience for all the divers,” said diving coach Eric Blevins. “Trevor and Wayco have qualified in the past and the female divers have competed in this type of competition in USA Diving meets. It will be fun to see how they do.”
A two-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Diver of the Meet, Hiller is a three-time NCAA Zone qualifier and he placed 25th on the three-meter and 29th on the one-meter at the zone meet as a junior. As a sophomore, Hiller was 18th in the one-meter finals at the 2012 NCAA Zones and scored 272.85 in the three-meter preliminaries. Hiller qualified for the 2014 Zone meet with a 328.35 one-meter score and a 355.05 three-meter score, both against Lehigh University.
“I think Trevor will do well,” said Blevins. “He is peaking at the right time and knows exactly what to expect. He is like having another coach in the pool and is a great leader. He is calming voice for his teammates.”
“The season went well,” said Hiller who won the MAAC one-meter title (318.15) and finished second on the three-meter board (291.40). “I feel comfortable in this level of competition. My goal is to make finals for both boards and improve on the last two seasons.”
Bailey is making his second NCAA Zone appearance. As a Rider rookie, he placed 37th in the three-meter dive and 43rd on the one-meter board. This season, Bailey qualified for NCAA Zones with a score of 307.425 on the one-meter and 345.90 on the three-meter, both against Lehigh University.
“Wayco really learned from last year,” Blevins said. “I think he could surprise some people.”
Bailey finished third on the one-meter board at MAACs (275.90) and he was sixth on the three-meter board (273.20).
Billerbeck, Lonkert and Toner are all making their first appearance at the NCAA Zone meet.
Billerbeck will compete on the three-meter board after hitting a qualifying mark against MAAC-rival Saint Peter’s University of 280.80.
“For Emma, this meet will be a great experience,” Blevins said. “She barely qualified for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) meet as a freshman and is now going to NCAA Zones only one year later. That’s a huge jump. To compete against this type of competition is going to show her how far she has come and that she belongs and that she can take it to the next level as a junior.”
“My season started out well but then I had to battle through some injuries,” said Billerbeck who was eighth on both the one-meter (172.65) and three-meter board (193.65) at MAACs. “I didn’t even think I would have a chance to make the zone meet. It’s been a pretty good season, with some rough spots along the way. To overcome the adversity and qualify feels great. Having a positive attitude really helped. I just want to dive my best, have fun and finish my season strong.”
The 2014 MAAC champion on the one-meter board (253.85) and fourth place finisher on the three-meter board (218.60), Lonkert qualified on the one-meter board (289.425) against Lehigh University and scored 294.225 on the three-meter board against Georgetown University.
“I can see Heather reaching the finals on the one-meter,” Belvins said. “And on three-meter, she has a good dive list and should be very competitive.”
Toner, who was fourth on the one-meter (229.05) and fifth on the three-meter (218.00) at MAACs, reached a score of 274.05 on the one-meter board in a conference meet against Saint Peter’s to qualify for the NCAA Zone competition and she will also compete on the three-meter board.
“Kelly has an outside shot at the one-meter finals,” Belvins added. “Her three-meter is coming along as well.”
As a team, the Rider divers had 17 separate NCAA Zone qualifying scores.
“Having five divers, they are all going to really help and support each other,” Belvins said. “They drive each other, both in the pool and in their training. If one gets nervous, the others will be there to calm their teammate down and overcoming the mental obstacles in a meet of this caliber is huge.”
“Having five make zones feels great,” Billerbeck added. “Having that much support, in this type of competition feels great. If I’m having a tough day, they will pick me up and if any of my teammates are struggling, I’ll be there for them as well. That’s the great thing about our team and a great environment to be in.”
“Eric Blevins is a great coach,” Hiller added. “Having five divers make the zone meet from one school is outstanding. It looks great for Rider and hopefully it will help the program grow in the future as more people know about the school.”
Five qualifying spots for the NCAA Championships have been allocated to Zone A with four other competitions taking place throughout the weekend to fill out the diving portion of the championships.
The Zone B meet is hosted by Clemson University and will be held in Greensboro, North Carolina March 10-12. Zone C, hosted by The Ohio State University will be March 13-15 in Columbus, Ohio, Zone D will be hosted by the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis on March 10-12 and Zone E will be hosted by the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado on March 13-15.
“As a Division I program, qualifying five divers really shows how the program has grown,” Belvins added. “It is exciting and shows how much the program is heading in the right direction. The next step is getting more finalists.”
The one-meter and three-meter events will consist of a preliminary round of six dives using all five groups. The top 18 finishers from the preliminary round will advance to the final round and will perform a second list of six dives using all five groups.
As a team, Rider has won the MAAC men’s swimming and diving championship three straight times with the Bronc women placing runner-up.
The NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving championship is March 20-22 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving championship is March 27-29 in Austin, Texas.
For the Rider University divers, let the Madness of March begin.