Competing in his strongest event at the NCAA men's swimming and diving championships -- the 3-meter dive -- it was only natural University of Virginia diver JB Kolod would begin the championship final with his easiest dive to shake off some of the pre-meet butterflies.
What he didn't anticipate, however, was making mistakes on his very first dive.
"It was a back 2½ somersault pike," he said. "It's actually the easiest dive on my list. It's the easiest dive for a lot of people, but it's always one that people mess up.
"It can sort of surprise you. It's so easy you can try too hard or you can sort of baby it, but the secret is to just do exactly what you do in practice."
Somehow, despite making a mistake on his first dive on the biggest stage for a collegiate diver, Kolod, a graduate of Fox Chapel Area High School, was able to bounce back and finish the three-day NCAA Division I championships as the most prolific diver in Virginia history.
He rallied to finish seventh in 3 meter, the highest diving finish in Virginia history and in the process earn All-American status and become the first Virginia diver -- male or female -- to make the championship final at the NCAA meet. He also earned honorable mention All-American in platform diving with his 10th-place finish, also the highest Virginia finish in the event.
"I'm not entirely sure how I was able to bounce back," said Kolod, an Indiana Township resident. "I dived just how I dive in practice. I didn't let it get to me, that's the first thing. I didn't pretend like the stakes weren't high.
"I knew [the bad first dive] set me back. It's not like I was fooling myself into thinking I had more room than I thought. I knew how difficult it was going to be to accomplish it. I just did my dives the way I did them in practice. I just kept my head on straight."
Kolod qualified for the NCAA championships following a standout performance at the Atlantic Coast Conference championships Feb. 26-March 1 at the Greensboro Aquatic Center in Greensboro, N.C.
A 5-foot-7 junior, Kolod broke the school record in 1 meter with a score of 387.95 points, good for fourth place. He also ended up fifth in 3 meter and ninth on platform.
At the NCAA Zone A diving championships March 10-12 in Blacksburg, Va., Kolod won the 3-meter event with a school-record score of 433.40 to qualify for the NCAA meet.
"Nobody wants to win more than JB when he's competing, I know that for certain," Virginia diving coach Jason Glorius said. "His mental makeup is what separates him from other divers. There are a lot of people physically gifted but when he gets to a big meet, he just seems to perform better when the lights are on."
The lights were on Kolod the first day of the NCAA championships March 27 at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center in Austin and he finished the 1-meter event with a score of 315.60, good for 23rd place.
"Going in, I thought we had a shot at top eight in all three events," Glorius said. "I think 1 meter, which was the first day, didn't go as well as planned because he might have had some nerves in there. I think it was good to get that one out of the way before heading into the 3-meter event where obviously he went top eight. I think that gave him some confidence to do well on tower [platform] where his consolation final score would have placed him in fifth or sixth place."
On the platform, Kolod finished with a score of 389 on the final day of the NCAA meet. The score was less than a point (389.85) from breaking the Virginia record.
The event itself -- a 33-foot dive from the top of a platform -- isn't one for the faint of heart.
"You have to trust yourself," Kolod said. "You have to trust that you're going to land on your head and that you know what you are doing. It's easier said than done.
"It's always scary. I don't know if it will ever stop being scary for me because we only have a 5 meter here so I really don't get to practice it much. I think that's the only way for it to stop being scary. When I first started diving, 3 meter was even a little scary. Now I'm really not afraid of anything on 3 meter."
It's that daily practice, Kolod said, that has eliminated all his fear and fueled his assault on the Virginia record books.
"It's just practicing hard and giving everything you have every day in practice," he said. "I don't really think it's a secret but it's something easier said than done.
"There's so much stuff that goes on outside of diving, outside of practice. You need to forget about it. Even things in the pool, you need to keep things in perspective. You need to realize every day you go in there that every day counts. You have to make the best of it."
Rick Davis: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3789.