There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2018-19 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players
This week: Gopher senior swimmer Rachel Munson and junior diver Kristen Hayden
Swimmer reflects on career success
Four years ago, Rachel Munson crossed the Wisconsin-Minnesota border to attend the “enemy school.” The Shorewood, Wisc. native said she never second-guessed her decision. In fact, she quickly pointed out that her time as a Gopher has gone way too quickly.
“I can’t believe we have only a few months left,” Munson admitted. A former Academic All-Big Ten selection, she expects to graduate this spring with a double major in psychology and biology.
Munson’s main events are the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke and individual medley, using all four competitive strokes: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle in that order in the same race. She has had numerous top-three finishes in her Golden Gopher career. Earlier this month against Hawaii, she won both the 100 and 200 breaststroke and was part of the team’s winning 200-yard medley relay.
Being the only Black swimmer, or one among the few, throughout her swimming career is something the young woman has long adjusted to. “I wasn’t the only one on my club team [back in Wisconsin] — there was one other [person of color],” Munson reported.
More importantly, Munson hoped that her Gopher years helped forged a positive lasting impression. “I want to be the best I can be and make a significant impact on the team here, not necessarily in times but in culture as well,” she said. “I’m reflecting back on my 15-year swimming career, and I can be really happy to look back and see all of the accomplishments that I have had and the memories I’ve made with my team.”
Munson plans to take a “gap” year after graduation. Thereafter, “I hope to go to medical school.”
Diver has Olympic aspirations
Kristen Hayden, as a University of Michigan freshman diver two seasons ago, achieved NCAA All-American honorable mention honors. But at a regional meet, the Hillsborough, New Jersey native realized that for her diving career to really flourish, Minnesota might be a better place for her.
“My biggest decision [to transfer] was [Minnesota Diving Coach] Wenbo Chen, who’s arguably one of the best diving coaches in the United States,” Hayden said. “I was sitting on the side of the pool and I was watching the NCAA diving finals. I looked up and I saw there were three Minnesota divers in the finals.”
Hayden has Olympic aspirations: She placed among the top 15 divers in the 2018 USA Diving Winter Trials in Atlanta in December. “I needed to go here. [Chen] is an amazing coach,” she stressed. During her first season last year as a Gopher, Hayden earned All-American honorable mention at the NCAA Championships and had three two-three finishes, including first place in both the 1-meter and 3-meter dives against Denver.
She is the only Black female diver on the Gophers. The junior communications major has been diving since grade school.
“I actually was a gymnast first,” Hayden recalled. “I did the summer swim team in the summer.” Her gymnastics coach suggested to her mom that perhaps the youngster try diving — she was in fourth grade at the time.
“Diving is about 90 percent mental,” Hayden explained. “[If] you know you can do the dive, you can see it, odds are it will come out. Right before I go into my dive, you go into your zone, make sure it is the correct dive…
“It is hours and hours of mechanics, years and years of discipline. It comes down to as little as when your toe pushes off the board. It’s so technical that there are so many factors that go into it.
“I’m one of the very few divers in the U.S. that are African American,” Hayden noted. “I want to make sure that I am the best representation of myself so when [people] think back, they saw that African American woman from Minnesota. So I can also influence other African American girls to want to do diving.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.