Kelci Bryant’s name might not ring a bell when it comes to famous Olympic athletes like Lindsey Vonn or Usain Bolt but the stand-out University of Minnesota diver has competed for Team USA in synchronized diving (with partner Ariel Rittenhouse) at the last two summer Olympics. She placed fourth at the 2008 Beijing games and won a silver medal at the 2012 London games and has a host of other national and international awards.
This fall, the Minnesota senior turned her attention from Olympic or collegiate training to helping the next generation of divers through the Blaine High School team and the results can be seen on the all-time scores listed on the wall inside the Northdale Middle School pool, home to both Blaine and Coon Rapids programs.
Bengals senior diver Nicole Wieden set all-time Blaine scores in Northdale pool earlier this season with scores of 280.25 for six dives and 368.40 for 11 dives. She is not only looking to make it back to the state Class AA meet, but finish among the state’s best. She placed 18th last year, two spots (4.95 points) from qualifying for the finals with a score of 234.15.
“Nicole has been after those records for six years,” Bryant said. “One of the things we wanted to do this year was get those records. For me, that hasn’t been the focus because you can’t control scores and judging and I wanted her to dive her best and the scores will come.”
Bryant, a two-time NCAA champion, joined the Bengals coaching staff under head coach Rory Copeland after freshman Jessica Sherlock attended a summer diving camp organized by Bryant’s coach Wenbo Chen at the University of Minnesota. Bryant gave a motivational talk about diving and life and said she always leaves time at the end to answer questions or interact with the campers.
Sherlock mentioned that Blaine was looking for a diving coach and Bryant gave Sherlock her contact information. Later, Bryant met with Copeland to discuss the opening and the rest is history.
“I didn’t really think about it much, but I got an email from Rory and we talked about the job and here I am,” Bryant said. “It’s fun. I know it’s a little risky giving your number out like that but I’m so glad and grateful to have this kind of opportunity.”
The young group of Bengals divers have made a huge impact on her life, she said.
A big challenge for Bryant this fall was finding the balance between finishing up her course work before graduating in December with a degree in communications studies, living in the west metro and coaching in Blaine. “I’ve had to leave meets during the week to get some class work done or to get ready for a test,” she said. “But it’s been nice to have that diving aspect in my life.”
As a world class diver, Bryant said she is just as nervous, if not more so, watching her divers from the pool deck. “When my diver is on the board at a meet, I feel like I am going to puke. I’m so nervous,” she said. “What’s difficult for me is that I’m not the one in control, like being a passenger in a car.”
Bryant found herself replicating some of the things she hated most about Chen, including overexaggerating movements during practice.
“I find myself doing it all the time to these kids,” she said. “Maybe one day I could be as good a coach as him. That would be amazing.”
She’s learned a lot about coaching others and that everyone needs a different style to maximize their talents, according to Bryant.
“For one diver I have to be very hard on them and the next diver very nice. It’s teaching me different styles of communication and what works best for them,” Bryant said.
Wieden said having a caliber of coach like Bryant has helped her focus on little changes that can generate big points.
“I heard she was going to be our coach and we were all excited,” she said.
The biggest thing the senior learned is to never give up. “I hadn’t been that dedicated,” said Wieden, the defending section diving champion. “She taught me that I can be better than I am and to keep working on it.”
Wieden is working on a front full-twisting 1 1/2 but hasn’t used it in competition, although she has thrown in a front 2 1/2 in competition and hopes to build on that.
The team has definitely made an impact on Bryant, she said. “I would love to come back, these girls are like my kids,” Bryant said. “Maybe little sisters is better but they mean a lot to me and I’ve grown attached to them and I want to be a part of that.”
The state true team meet is an indicator of the divers’ potential for a finish at the end-of-year state meet. Wieden finished 11th overall with 346.65 points, while the four Blaine divers placed among the top 21 places. Eighth-grader Abigail Egolf-Jensen was 15th with 303.00, Kellie Pruitt was 19th with 202.90 and ninth-grader Katie Langlee was 21st with 123.95 points.
The Bengals placed 12th among the field of 12 teams with 637 points at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center Oct. 19. Ninth-grade Alyssa Parsons was 19th in the 100 breaststroke in 1:0.64 and senior Erin Sullivan placed 21st in the 100 backstroke in 1:02.47.
The Bengals 200 medley relay team of Sullivan, Parsons, McKenzie Johnson and Rylee Slotsve was 22nd in 1:57.09.
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