By Calvin Sports Information Director Jeff Febus
Standing on a diving board three meters above the Venema Aquatic Center diving well, Calvin College senior Michael Moentmann was well aware of what was at stake.
With his team scratching and clawing for every point in a tooth-and-nail struggle for the MIAA title with Albion, Moentman was on the verge of an upset victory that could give Calvin a chance to win the three-and-a-half day meet and the final overall MIAA title.
With nerves of steel, Moentman nailed his final dive to seal the individual MIAA three-meter diving title with a career-best score of 513.85 points. More importantly his victory was a six-point swing and moved the Calvin men's swimming and diving team into a tie for first place in the overall point standings with just one event left – the 400 freestyle relay. Moments later, the Knights completed the comeback, winning the relay by a half-second to claim their third MIAA team crown in the last four years, doing so by a margin of just 6.5 points.
The reason that Moentman was there to dive at all for Calvin came down to his experience as a Calvin student-athlete.
"I had the chance to graduate after three years," said Moentmann who has been accepted into medical school at Wayne State University next fall. "When it came down to it, I did not want to give up my final year with my team. The relationships I had built and the experiences I had received were too valuable to give up when I had the opportunity to do it for one more year. I did not want to give up that opportunity and it was the best decision I could have ever made."
While growing up in the Cleveland suburb of Solon, Ohio, Moentmann began his diving career at Solon High School.
While searching for a college to attend he realized he wanted to continue his diving career at the collegiate level and most importantly be a part of a team.
"Academics were a big factor but at first I was on the fence about continuing my career as an athlete. Once I realized I wanted to continue the pursuit as an athlete, it helped narrow the school search," said Moentmann. "When I visited Calvin, the (Venema Aquatic Center) facilities made a huge impression and to be honest, I did not investigate the school as much as I should have. I kind of stumbled into Calvin. I made a bit of an uninformed decision to come here but I've been blessed to fall in love with everything that the school has to offer."
Moentmann increasingly became immersed with Calvin's engagement with science framed within a Reformed Christian worldview.
"I've been surprised," said Moentmann of Calvin's Christian worldview. "I thought Calvin would be limited with its view on science and Christianity but I've found Calvin to be challenging, open and informative about our faith. Calvin is willing and not afraid to engage and ask the tough questions, particularly when science and Christianity meet. I didn't expect it to be like that at all. I did not realize that the Christian perspective would not inhibit my pursuit of science but instead enhance it. Calvin has empowered me to help engage the messy questions when Christianity and science converge."
LEARNING TO LEAD
A Dean's List student and a three-time member of the MIAA Academic Honor Roll, Moentmann has also excelled on the diving boards, qualifying for the NCAA III Swimming and Diving Championships three consecutive years. Last month he earned NCAA III Honorable Mention All-America honors with a 15th place finish on the one-meter diving board at the national meet.
During that time he also became an integral member of the Calvin swimming and diving program, growing into a leadership role.
"Michael is a very caring and socially interactive person," said Calvin diving coach Aaron Paskvan. "He likes to get to know people, where they are from and what they are all about. That not only extends to his own teammates but also to his opponents. Anyone who has been on a team or competed against Michael knows who he is and what he is about."
Due to his academic excellence, Moentmann was set to graduate last spring but an interdisciplinary course in public health taught by Calvin's Social Work Program director Kristen Alford made a profound impact.
"That class helped me figure out what studying in a Christian liberal arts setting really meant," he said. "It helped put into words what I wanted to do with my career in medicine. I realized college wasn't just a box check on the way to a career. It was learning to accept a calling."
When applying to medical schools, Moentmann also found that his public health major helped differentiate him from other candidates, giving him a diversified portfolio.
This fall, Moentmann was elected a tri-captain of the men's swimming and diving team by his teammates – a rarity for a diver according to head Calvin swim coach Dan Gelderloos who recently completed his 22nd year at the helm of the Calvin program.
"I would have to really dig through my files to see if we have had many team captains that were divers," said Gelderloos. "It isn't a bad reflection on our divers by any means but the fact of the matter is that they are off training in a different section of the pool and the interaction between divers and swimmers sometimes does not happen as much as it should. To Michael's credit, he got to know as many members of our team as he could and he did so in a positive way. That was reflected in the vote of his teammates this fall and he was a great senior captain."
During the season, Moentmann led pre-meet cheers while also encouraging younger members of the team. "I know what it was like to be a freshman, learning, growing and trying to find my fit," he said. "I felt it was my role to help the younger teammates on their journey. At the end of the season, I would look around, see faces of teammates and realize the wonderful stories of growth that went with each face."
In a nail-biter of an MIAA Championship meet on February 24th inside the Venema Aquatic Center, Moentmann felt that support right back. "People may say that swimming and diving is an individual sport but it is not. It's the support of the team that carries you through. Standing on the three-meter board, I knew what was on the line. I knew all the dominoes that needed to fall to win the meet and I knew that I was one of those dominoes. It was a privilege to be in that position. I knew I had all the eyes of my teammates looking at me with encouragement but I refused to make eye contact to stay within my zone. Having said that, I was diving for my teammates. I was diving to serve them."
According to Paskvan, the pressure was immense. "I didn't have to say too much to him," said Paskvan. "He knew how crucial his performance was to the team. The way he performed was incredible. I could not have been prouder of him."
The three-meter victory allowed Moentmann to earn a spot on the All-MIAA team but the journey proved to be the real reward. "That's what sports and competition is all about," said Moentmann. "It was fun to win the three-meter and later the meet but it was more awesome to compete against a great team and having everything come down to the last race. It was the best experience I have ever had in sports and certainly something I will never forget."
BRIGHT FUTURE AHEAD
Moving forward, Moentmann will prepare to graduate next month, begin medical school next fall and discover what the next chapter in his life will hold. "I haven't decided what part of the medical field I want to focus on," he said. "I've got some time to figure that out. The biggest thing I want to do is serve people in whatever way I feel called to do."
If Paskvan has a prediction, it will be something special. "I've watched Michael grow over the last four years. I've watched him perform under pressure and learn how to interact with his teammates and his opponents," said Paskvan. "He has been a joy to coach and if the last four years are any indication, he will do great things in the future."