Although the North Carolina men’s swimming and diving team might have hoped for better results at the 2021 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on Friday, the team still had some shining moments to cap off a bright season.
The Tar Heels sent 11 competitors to the meet. Three of them returned to Chapel Hill with All-America honors, and the Tar Heels placed 24th as a team.
“I felt like we could’ve been higher, but in terms of the big picture, I’m so proud of the team and what we’ve been able to accomplish,” head coach Mark Gangloff said. “And ultimately, I think we’re headed in the right direction. I think our men have a ton of potential.”
One of the divers to earn All-America honors was junior Anton Down-Jenkins, who participated in the 1-meter and 3-meter diving events. After finishing 18th in the 1-meter dive on Thursday, Down-Jenkins returned with a splash in the 3-meter on Friday.
Down-Jenkins recorded a score of 450.05, good enough for fourth place in the finals. That score barely missed the 3-meter school record, which was set by Down-Jenkins himself in this year’s ACC Championships.
“It speaks really well to the performer he is,” head diving coach Yaidel Gamboa said. “He’s coming back from not a great day in the 1-meter to having an All-America performance in day two in the 3-meter event.”
Down-Jenkins wasn’t the only Tar Heel diver that earned a piece of the limelight. Sophomore Alex Hart also participated in the 1-meter and 3-meter events, winning All-America honors. In the 3-meter dive, Hart competed in the finals alongside Down-Jenkins and finished eighth.
On the swimming side, senior captain Valdas Abaliksta highlighted UNC's appearance. In the 100-yard breaststroke, Abaliksta finished 16th, earning himself honorable mention All-America honors.
“Valdas has really evolved in the last year and a half being able to work with him,” Gangloff said. “I think that he and I know that there is even more in the tank for him, but what he did this year was pretty phenomenal.”
Although this season was anything but normal due to COVID-19, Gangloff ultimately saw this obstacle-riddled campaign as a net positive for his team.
“COVID just fast-forwarded the maturity of our program, and so that was a great thing to have come from this year,” he said. “I think that the team members that were able to stick it out are going to benefit greatly in years to come.”
Despite the challenges, the team still found a way to break several school records, earn a top-25 ranking and establish a presence on the national stage.
Gangloff and his staff have already made a difference in just two seasons at the helm for North Carolina, and the swimming and diving team looks set to accomplish even more in the future.
“I feel like with the performance we had the whole season, ACC Championships and NCAA Championships, we put the name of our program on the best right now in the country, and that’s pretty special,” Gamboa said. “We want to build upon that for next season and the years to come, and hopefully continue to be better and establish as one of those top programs. Why not?”