Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Wesleyan's top six divers who qualified for state last year include Alexandra Hernandez (top, left to right) Lindsay Panther, Lauren Hall, Wes Ayres (bottom, left to right) Zach Hernandez and Bobby Chambless.
A two-time defending state champion and a diver since elementary school, Lauren Hall wants to think about anything but diving when her turn on the board comes.
“I like to distract myself before I dive,” the junior at Wesleyan said. “I like to go off in a different place. When I think too much I freak myself out.”
Distractions are few at a diving meet. For most divers it’s them, a coach, a teammate or two and the board. Its minute technicality eliminates casual fans from the sport and the lengths of the meets don’t help either. Coming off a short season thanks to a back injury and facing a tough field of divers, Hall needed as many distractions as she could find.
Lucky for her, she dives for Wesleyan.
Hall qualified for state with seven of her diving teammates last year as the Wolves swept the boys and girls titles. Hall claimed the girls and Zach Hernandez won the boys.
A Wesleyan diver atop the podium is nothing new. In eight seasons under community coach Jonathan Nye, the Wolves have won seven state championships, starting with four-time title winner Webb Worthington.
But the Wolves’ diving program is more than just a top-heavy team with a few good divers. It’s a program with a swath of divers spanning all ages and experience levels.
“Practices are a lot of fun,” Hernadez said. “It’s a lot of fun here. It’s good stuff.”
The high turnout for the team allows for growth of younger divers. Hall remembers watching the upperclassmen dive when she was in junior high.
“I remember diving with Bobby (Chambless, a senior) in middle school and you would watch the older kids and I would compare myself to them,” Hall said. “My goal was to be like them. We have always had good divers, but it was just you always want to keep improving.”
Chambless agrees. He finished in the top 10 last year in the state meet.
“We play follow the leader going off the board. That is how I learned a lot of my dives because I would see someone do it and say, ‘Well, I have to do it, too,’” Chambless said.
And with state champions and qualifiers to mimic, the dives are a challenge for the up-and-comers.
“Our program has always been pretty strong,” Nye said. “We have always had a least two or three people qualify for state each year. We always have a couple of kids that don’t really know much about diving, but with training, coming in two or three times a week for four months, they’ll get better and qualify for state.”
Nye throws around “qualify for state” like an expectation rather than a special feat. A former college diver at Georgia, Nye’s lowest bar starts a few rungs higher than most in diving. For many schools to have one or two divers compete in the state meet represents a major accomplishment.
But eight captured the attention of even Wesleyan’s high-demand coaches.
Nye and head swim coach Colin Creel gave each of the divers a monogrammed shammy to mark the occasion, a nod to the special nature of the feat. But Nye expects at least six qualifiers (four already have) this season and is hopeful for another state championship sweep.
“I have been fortunate to have these divers come through my program,” Nye said.
They might not get new shammies, but there will be fewer dull moments.
“When you have more teammates there, everyone really cheers for you,” Chambless said. “It makes you feel good. It makes me dive better knowing that I have my team there and cheering for me.”