Hall defends state diving title

ATLANTA -- Most observers knew Wesleyan had a solid chance at having two individual state champions in the diving competition of the Class A-AAAA swimming and diving championships.

Lauren Hall and Zach Hernandez did pull off the sweep for the Wolves on Thursday at the Marist Aquatic Center, though they did it in different ways.

Hall repeated as state champion in the girls division with several clutch dives late, while Hernandez got off to a strong start to build a comfortable lead en route to the boys title.

Hernandez led a strong day from the Wesleyan boys. Bobby Chambless and Tradd Cannon joined him in the finals, rolling up team points for the Wolves in their quest for the overall state title when the swimming preliminary heats and finals run Monday at Westminster.

"We thought they both had a chance," Wesleyan community diving coach Jonathan Nye said of the Wolves' two state champions. "I know going in Bobby wanted to get in the top 10, and he wound up sixth. Tradd, we didn't really expect him to get in the top 16. But there he is, and he got 13th."

Hall got the Wolves off to a good start by successfully defending the girls individual title she won as a freshman a year ago, this time beating Marist's Andrea Demick 481.90-473.70.

Despite having last year's title under her belt, the Wesleyan sophomore said she felt more nervous this time around for a number of reasons.

For one thing, the competition pool was considerably deeper this time with the likes of freshmen Demick, St. Pius' Gaffney Taylor and Pace Academy's Emily Kaplan, none of whom were around when Hall won last year.

Add in the fact she was diving in just her second meet since suffering a back injury last summer and she wasn't sure exactly what to expect."

"Every single one of them is so good," Hall said of her nearest competitors. "So, there was a lot more competition this year.

"And this is only my second meet back from my back injury. So, I knew it was going to be hard (to win) this year."

Sure enough, the meet basically came down to the 11th and final round with Hall needing to pull off a dive she hadn't practiced much while rehabilitating her back injury.

"She's been on the board maybe a total of 20 times (since her injury)," Nye said. "And she's only done about five or six dives each time. ... I told her (before the last dive), 'Look, you've been off the board about five months, Let's just work on trying to get in the top three, and if we win, we win.' ... But she's a competitor."

Indeed, Hall was very aware of what she needed to do when she got on the board for her final dive.

"I don't usually like to look at the places, but I glanced up at the board because Andrea did this unbelievable dive and I saw she (was in) first," Hall said. "It gave me a lot of adrenaline. I really wanted to hit that last (dive) ... and I thought I did it pretty well."

So did the judges, who awarded Hall two marks of 7.0, two more of 7.5 and an 8.0 to vault her into the lead for good ahead of Demick, Taylor (third at 453.60), Kaplan (fourth, 439.30) and Marist's Taylor Gould (fifth, 427.85).

Hall wasn't alone among Gwinnett divers in the top 15, with GAC's Madison Heyward finishing 10th with 329.65 and Spartans teammate Caroline Bond right behind her in 11th at 325.25.

While Hall's big dives came late, Hernandez made his big move in his early dives to build up a solid early lead.

That helped take the pressure off him, and needing less than two total points to retake the lead on his final dive, the junior pulled in 5.5s and 6.0s to vault from last year's third-place finish to the title with 467.65 points, well ahead of the 428.65 from runner-up David Zarb of Oconee County.

"I put those (early) dives in there so I could get a comfortable lead and start off and get some confidence," Hernandez said. "At the end, I guess that was the important part."

Just as important as the 20 team points Hernandez pulled in for Wesleyan were the 13 more Chambless gained with his sixth-place finish at 385.80 and the five more from Cannon with his 13th place finish at 287.10.

Those totals give the Wolves 38 points heading into the swimming portion of the meet, a nice head start on other state contenders like Westminster, which got fourth and fifth place from Morgan Stevens and Frank Love respectively for 29 points, and Marist, which has 10 points after Porter Harrast's ninth-place showing.

"It was discussed a bit," Hernandez said of the team points. "We knew if we contributed, our team would have a good chance to win."