April 9, 2014
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- JB Kolod belongs to an elite group in college athletics. He holds the distinction of being the greatest ever in his sport at his school. Even more impressive, he still has another year at the University of Virginia.
For Kolod, that speaks to both his talent and to UVa's lack of tradition in diving. Virginia has long ranked at or near the top of the ACC in men's and women's swimming. Until recently, though, the school's diving program was almost an afterthought.
Kolod, a 5-foot-7 junior from Pittsburgh, is helping to change that. At last month's NCAA championships in Austin, Texas, he placed seventh in 3-meter diving and 10th in platform diving, the highest finishes in UVa history.
Of all of Kolod's attributes, what helps him most as a diver "is his competitive nature," UVa diving coach Jason Glorius said. "A lot of people will get to that meet and just fold."
The Cavaliers placed 26th at the NCAA men's swimming and diving championships, with 23 points. Kolod, the first UVa diver to earn multiple All-America citations, scored 19 of those points.
"It's definitely going to have a positive impact on what we're trying to do as a diving program," said Glorius, who came to UVa from Denison University late last summer.
Kolod, who's majoring in economics, with a minor in German language, has much more he wants to accomplish at the University. Still, no matter what happens next year, it's "nice to know that there's something you can leave behind," he said. "That's a much bigger accomplishment, in my opinion, than something individual. If you can have a legacy and impact on an entire program, I think that's pretty cool and not something that happens very often."
As a senior at Fox Chapel Area High School, Jakob Burton Kolod was fully aware of Virginia's low profile in NCAA diving, "especially compared to some of the other schools I was looking at, like Pittsburgh or Indiana University, where the diving team is almost separate from the swim team, because it's so big and respected," he said.
"But it was the same situation at my high school when I first started diving. It was all swimmers, and there were only a couple divers on the team, and they never scored any points for the team or did anything, really. So I was not concerned about that when I came to UVa, because I knew that was the case when I was in high school, and I was able to change that, and I thought that I could do the same thing here at UVa."
In 2012-13, when Kolod earned All-America honorable mention in 3-meter diving, Rich MacDonald coached Virginia's divers. Last July, however, Mark Bernardino retired as UVa's head swimming and diving coach, and MacDonald left the next month to become diving coach at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Virginia hired Augie Busch to replace Bernardino, and Busch made it clear from the start that he wanted to elevate UVa's diving program.
"That was one of the first things that Coach Busch said in one of his earliest interviews: `We treat divers just as we treat swimmers. They score valuable points for the team,' " Kolod recalled.
Glorius said: "It's a process. What [Busch is] trying to accomplish with the swimmers and what I'm trying to do the divers is to get all of us to the same place, so we can be a program that's going to be a force to be reckoned with nationally."
The staff turnover didn't faze Kolod, who meshed well with Glorius from the start.
"It was probably easier for me than it was for a lot of people, just because in gymnastics my coaches changed a lot," Kolod said. "I would change gyms, and then coaches would come and go. And then with switching sports entirely, I was kind of used to changing coaches and things like that. So I knew what I was doing."
For nearly a decade, gymnastics was Kolod's athletic passion. But when the gym at which he trained in Pittsburgh dropped its program for boys, he had a decision to make. To continue in the sport, Kolod said, he probably would have needed to have moved to Philadelphia or Colorado.
"But what I ended up doing was just switching to diving," Kolod said. "One of my really good friends, from when I first started gymnastics, did gymnastics and diving at the same time. He eventually just quit gymnastics and focused on diving, but I stayed in contact with him. So instead of moving anywhere, I just decided to stay in Pittsburgh and start diving with him."
That was in 2008, when Kolod was a sophomore in high school. He began training at Pitt Aquatic Club, where his coaches were the husband-and-wife team of Julian and Doe Krug, whose daughter, Cassidy, competed in diving at the 2012 Olympic Games.
"I didn't really think I was going to take it as seriously as I took gymnastics," Kolod said, "because gymnastics was like a full-time job, six days a week for more than four hours a day.
"I was just thinking that for the first year I was probably going to take it a lot easier than I took gymnastics and not be as serious with this sport. But then after my first year the coaches were like, `We want you to come in every day and take it seriously. You have a lot of talent.' And eventually I realized how much I like this sport, and I wanted to take it seriously."
His talent notwithstanding, Kolod wasn't a polished diver during his high school years, and many Division I programs chose not to recruit him, including Virginia Tech, his parents' alma mater.
"It was like a perfect fit, really," Kolod said. "The other schools I was looking at, nothing just fit me as perfectly as UVa did. Everything about it seemed just right. It was the right distance from home. I really liked the campus, I liked the team, it was a good academic school. I didn't have to make any concessions if I came here."
UVa's divers, like its swimmers, train at the Aquatic and Fitness Center. The facility has a 5-meter diving platform, as well as 1- and 3-meter springboards. At the ACC and NCAA championships, though, Kolod also competes off the 7- and 10-meter platforms, which puts him at a disadvantage against divers who train regularly at those heights.
So be it. At the AFC, "you can't do the actual dives you do off 7-meter and 10-meter, but you can do the progressions," Kolod said. "So instead of doing back two-and-a-half on the 7-meter, you'll do back double. So you can at least practice the start of the dive and what it feels like in the air."
He's still a relative newcomer to platform diving.
"Before I came here, I never did platform when I was at home, because the coaches in Pittsburgh wouldn't make anybody do it," Kolod said. "They would just say, `If you feel comfortable and you want to do it, we'll coach you for it.' So naturally I just didn't do it at all, because it was scary.
"Then I came here and Rich [MacDonald] was like, `Platform is the least competitive event, because few schools have platforms. A lot of kids are afraid and just don't do it. So you don't even need to do a lot, just to be able to be decent and score points.' It was kind of a challenge, just learning an entire list [of dives]. My first year I got here, I was like, `I just want to be able to compete on tower and have six dives.' And then slowly, every two months or so, we'd go to a meet that had a platform, and I would try to learn a new dive or actually practice the few dives that I had. And so it was a pretty slow process."
He's made remarkable progress since his first year at UVa. Glorius believes Kolod can contend for NCAA titles next year and perhaps represent the United States at international meets some day.
"It's just a matter of getting consistent training," Glorius said.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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