Staff Photo: John Bohn Lauren Hall is the Gwinnett Daily Post's girls diver of the year. Hall is a senior diver at Wesleyan and will dive for the University of Hawaii.
Reaching Lauren Hall's level of diving success doesn't come without sacrifices.
The daily three-hour practices at Georgia Tech kept her busy most afternoons, so she couldn't spend as much time with her Wesleyan friends as she would have liked. She also never got to try other sports she was interested in, like basketball (her sister Erin plays at Wake Forest), soccer and lacrosse --with her athletic ability basketball coach Jan Azar and soccer coach Lacy Gilbert confirmed that the senior could have helped Wesleyan greatly in all three.
Hall gave up all other sports as an 11-year-old thanks to her early success in diving. She endured the tough initial practices when she was a middle-schooler training with high-schoolers on her year-round diving team and spent much of the next seven years sacrificing to focus on her best sport.
Giving up what she did over the years wasn't easy, but now she's fully experiencing the rewards that come with it.
Hall, the Daily Post girls diver of the year, won her fourth straight Class AAAA-A state championship last month and broke her own state record in the process with a score of 537.65 points. She also signed a letter of intent with Hawaii back in November, completing a whirlwind recruiting process.
"I can't even describe how it feels (to win four titles in a row)," Hall said. "Because I achieved that goal, I have a lot more confidence in myself that I can achieve any other goal that I set. Everything I went through, hurting my back, if I can go through all that and succeed and reach my goals, I feel like maybe one day I can go to the Olympics. It's nice to see all the hard work finally pay off.
"I had to give up a lot throughout the years in sports I really wanted to try and I couldn't do it because I do dive. But it's really nice to know I gave up all that for a reason."
Injuries made it even tougher for Hall to get to this point.
She hurt her back as a sophomore and took a year off to recover, returning just in time to win a second state title at Wesleyan. She continued to struggle with back pain that lingered into her junior year.
The back still aches at times, but she's fought through it. The time spent away from diving also renewed her love for the sport.
"I got really burned out and then when I got hurt, that's really when I figured out I loved it," Hall said. "After I got hurt, I knew I really wanted to come back. They told me it was never going to heal. The pain will go away. You'll get used to it over time. It still hurts every once in awhile. But I feel like my passion for diving and my determination is overpowering it."
The struggles of her sophomore and junior seasons affected Hall in recruiting, too. College coaches had question marks about her durability because of the injuries, and they didn't get to see her in Junior Olympic meets because she missed them. Her last chance to showcase her talents, while healthy, was at last August's USA Diving Junior National Championships.
Hall placed fourth nationally in the 1-meter competition, which brought a sudden rush of major universities with offers. She crammed in visits to places like Georgia, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Auburn, in addition to one trip to Hawaii.
That trip to Hawaii stood out and she chose to go there over her No. 2 choice, Georgia.
"It was either (Hawaii) or go with the Georgia choice, where I planned on going the whole time, it was the easy one where I knew what I was getting into," Hall said. "I knew the team, knew the coach very well and I had been with the team. At Hawaii, I met the coach for a couple of hours and there were a lot of unknowns, but once I made the decision it felt right. I think Hawaii can take me places that Georgia maybe could have, but the Hawaii coach definitely had a lot more confidence in me. He had the confidence in me that I could some day go really far in diving."
Hawaii coach Mike Brown played a big part in Hall's decision. A veteran of 30 college diving seasons, he has experienced success at Texas (where he spent 18 seasons) and at Hawaii, where he has coached the past 12 seasons with his wife, Anita Rossing, as an assistant.
Brown was a U.S. National Team coach in diving for 17 years, as well as the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team coach. That reputation, plus a personality that Hall likens to one of her favorite people, her grandfather, sealed her decision.
"Mainly the coach was a big part of (choosing Hawaii)," Hall said. "He has a history of being successful as a coach and taking his divers really far. Also he reminded me a lot of my Gran Harvey. I look up to my grandparents a lot. I really strive to be like them one day. When I saw the same qualities in Mike Brown as I did in my Gran Harvey, it just felt like a family and felt like home. I connected really well with him as a person.
"He seemed to see something in me that no one else did. I don't know if he could take me to the Olympics, but I feel like it's worth a shot. I knew what I was going to get at Georgia and I didn't at Hawaii. I just felt like it was worth trying."
Hall heads for her long journey to college as one of the state's most decorated divers.
After breaking the state record as a junior, she won her fourth straight high school state title this year and topped her own mark. Her Wesleyan letter jacket is covered with patches for winning titles and breaking state records.
She didn't get to play the other sports she wanted as a high-schooler, but she does have the satisfaction of reaching her primary goal with Wesleyan --winning four straight titles.
"Because I put so much pressure on myself, I definitely wanted to break my (state) record this year," Hall said. "I felt like I had gotten so much better from where I was my junior year to where I am now. I also had a lot harder (degree of dives) so I knew I could (get the record) if I dove well. But my main focus was just achieving my goal of winning four years.
"On my last dive, I saw I broke it and it was like, 'Oh, my gosh.' Still thinking back on it, I can't believe it all happened."