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Piner a rising star in newfound sport

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Diving wasn't really on Sean Piner's radar until a few years ago.

The Parkview junior didn't take a huge interest in the sport until recently, but he has already become a rising star in just his second year of competitive diving. The past few months have been part of a whirlwind introduction to the sport for Piner, who has excelled with intense year-round training and work with Gwinnett high school coach Bettie Hudson.

Piner was named Gwinnett County diver of the year and received high school All-American honors for his exceptional performance during the high school season. He captured the county's diving title and finished as runner-up at the state meet, while also breaking a handful of diving records at Parkview, a school with a strong tradition in the sport.

"I had been training the whole season for that one meet because one of my goals was to win county," Piner said. "That's the one thing I wanted. I had been trying all these new dives and I got most of them down. Going into the meet I was kind of nervous and I still can't believe I did as well as I did."

After an eighth-place finish at state and a score of 309.20 as a freshman, Piner set a goal to crack the top five at last season's state meet. He crushed that goal and racked up 445.90 points, coming in second place to Jack Nyquist, a rising sophomore from Alpharetta who finished with 523.40 points.

Combined with his 436.80 points at the county meet, he had the highest score in the county to earn the Gwinnett County diver of the year award.

"At state, I got second place behind a freshman that's going to be a sophomore this year," Piner said. "He beat me by 100 points, which is two or three dives for a regular diver. So he's way up there ahead of me, but one of my goals is to catch up and beat him by senior year. He's doing much harder dives and I just want to get to his level as soon as I can."

Having already met his goals at county and state, Piner set his sights on becoming on an All-American for his third goal. His score from the state meet qualified him for consideration, but he still had to go through a long process of submitting applications and DVDs of his dives for review by the selection committee of 20 former divers and coaches.

In the end, he was chosen last month as one of the top 130 high school divers, which represents the top 1 percent of all high school divers.

"I had been waiting since February to see if I had made it or not," Piner said. "I wasn't very sure because I know there are a lot of really good divers in the country. Then I was in the middle of practice at UGA and then I looked up to my mom in the stands and she was waving at me, telling me that I made All-American. I was just ecstatic and was so happy that I got it because that means I had achieved all three goals I had set out for myself for the year."

After the high school season was over, he continued to compete with the Georgia Diving Club at a region meet and then advanced to a zone meet, which was one step short of making it to nationals.

Diving competitively for the first time on a 3-meter board, he overcame his nerves and stayed consistent to finish 12th out of 17 divers at region and advance to the zone meet with a score of 318.90 points. He also qualified for zone on the 1-meter board, which is the height for high school competition, with a score of 328.10 points to finish 13th out of 18 divers.

At the zone meet last month, he competed against the best divers in the South and finished 21st at both the 1-meter and 3-meter heights. While he didn't make it to nationals this year, he has already set a goal to make it next year.

"I personally didn't do as well as I could have," Piner said. "It was just one of those days, but it was definitely one of the greatest diving experiences I've had, so it was well worth it. Most of the kids there had been diving so much longer than me, so they were quite a bit better than me I would say."

But the finish was still pretty impressive, especially for a diver so new to the sport.