Diver finds home at Missouri

Thursday, March 9, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:34 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Kendra Melnychuk has had a special freshman year at the University of Missouri. She found a new home at MU, which is different in many ways from her hometown, and she is one of four MU divers to qualify for the NCAA Zone Diving competition this weekend in Columbia.

Melnychuk hails from Saskatoon, the largest city in Saskatchewan, the middle province of Canada. Saskatchewan is known for its hockey players. It produces more NHL players than any other province or state.

Although Melnychuk played hockey as a child with friends in the street, diving is her sport and was her ticket out of Canada. Canadian universities do not hand out athletic scholarships. If Melnychuk wanted to go to school on her diving talent, then she had to leave her home country.

“It has been my life goal to get a scholarship to the states for sports,” Melnychuk said.

She followed diver Aaron Wionzek, a senior who no longer dives for the team, to MU from their hometown. She has known Wionzek since she was 7.

“He would call me almost every week telling me how great MU was, and so I really did not even look anywhere else,” Melnychuk said.

By the time she was 8, Melnychuk had been swimming competitively for a year. At that point, though, she switched to diving and began her career.

“I always spent more time at swim practice in the shallows watching the divers, and my mom asked me if I would like to dive, thinking that I would quit in two months,” Melnychuk said.

Her parents let her go to the Saskatoon University diving camp, her first experience with the sport.

“We never would have dreamed of having her try it, but she developed a talent for it,” Dick Melnychuk, her father, said.

After that, she just kept going. In her first year of competition in 1997, she made it to the Canadian Nationals meet in Victoria, British Columbia. Melnychuk continued to improve while diving for the Saskatoon diving club team.

Canada doesn’t have high school sports like the United States does, so she led two different lives while growing up.

“I was two different people because I had my school life and my diving life,” Melnychuk said. “I did not really like school much, but when I was at the pool I was really happy and outgoing.”

Now she’s going through her freshman year of college and experiencing all the normal problems that come with it. She said that doing her own laundry and getting her own meals for the first time has been exciting.

“I get to start my life over and it is one of the greatest things to happen in my life,” Melnychuk said.

Missouri diving coach James Sweeney said that Melnychuk has done a great job, both in the pool and in her first year of college.

“She went through all the freshman stuff, but she never complained and now when you look at her, you can tell she is at home here,” Sweeney said.

Although her parents live to the north by about 1,429 miles, they still manage to follow their daughter’s career.

“We miss having the access to be at her meets and support her, but we can still keep up with her through the internet and talking to her after the meets,” her father said.

Melnychuk has reacted well to her transition. Her first year of NCAA diving has been successful.

She finished first in both the 1-meter and 3-meter board events in several meets including the Nebraska, Drury, and Illinois/Iowa meets. Further, she finished third in both the 3-meter and platform diving events at the Big 12 Conference Championships.

“She has done amazing and has been performing very well,” Sweeney said.

Saying that her mother still expects her to quit in two months, Melnychuk continues her preparations for the NCAA Zone meet. She said she does not have any expectations and has been working hard and enjoying herself.

“I am in no place to expect anything,” she said. “This being my first zones, the only thing I will know for sure is what the pool looks like.”

The NCAA Zone D diving competition begins 10 a.m. Friday. The meet is at the Mizzou Aquatic Center, inside the Student Recreation Complex, and MU will have senior Evan Watters diving on the men’s side. Senior Nicole Frazier, junior Kim Massaro will join Melnychuk for the women’s squad. Zones is the qualifying meet for the NCAA national meet, and five advancement spots exist for the men and six for the women.

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