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South's Davis flourishing in transition to diving

South Gwinnett sophomore Markiyah Davis, who just started diving a year ago, qualified for the state meet and broke a school record for 11 dives at the Clody Invitational in December. (Staff Photo: Christine Troyke)

South Gwinnett sophomore Markiyah Davis, who just started diving a year ago, qualified for the state meet and broke a school record for 11 dives at the Clody Invitational in December. (Staff Photo: Christine Troyke)

Going into the Clody Invitational in early December, Markiyah Davis wasn’t thinking about state qualifications.

Davis, a sophomore at South Gwinnett, started diving 13 months before. It was her 13th high school meet.

With two of her 11 dives left, Davis was all but assured of the feat.

All she had to do was not fall off the board. Perhaps a little more than that, but not much.

Davis did much more. She ended up not just qualifying for state, but smashing the old South record. The previous 11-dive record, set in 2005, was 259.00 points. Davis scored 329.15 at Clody. She was also the third overall finisher in the county, behind only two seniors.

“She’s so humble,” Gwinnett County diving coach Sarah-Nicole Ackerman said. “When I told her she made it to state, broke the school record and was third in the county, her response was, ‘Really? I was third in the county? Out of all the girls?’

“Yes, Markiyah, out of 36 girls. ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know I was that good.’”

Davis has a natural talent, honed by many years as a gymnast. But the time commitment it takes to be a gymnast had her thinking about trying other sports.

“It was a tough path for me,” Davis said. “I was in middle school, about to go to high school, and the schedule for gymnastics is four hours, four or five days a week. It was a lot to do and my schedule got busy.”

She picked volleyball and diving, in part because other gymnasts she knew had made the same transition to the water.

“I miss it sometimes,” Davis said, “but there were other sports I’m good at and I’m happy I found diving.”

As South’s only diver, she missed the team camaraderie. But Davis filled that void playing volleyball for the Comets. She also joined a club team during the offseason and confines her diving to the prep season. Which is part of what makes her meteoric rise special.

“It’s not very common unless they do year-round and she doesn’t,” Ackerman said. “She does other sports as well so it’s really hard. The girls have to get a certainly degree of difficulty (to qualify for state). To do that, you need big dives. You really have to mentally prepare and gain. She started last year and was kind of like, ‘Oh, I think this will be good.’

“She was good. But then at the beginning of this year. Something clicked and she was fearless and willing to try anything and everything. She has such a natural talent that she’d try it and voila, she can do it.”

Not that there wasn’t a learning curve. Davis had to figure out how to apply what she knew from gymnastics to a pool. The twists and flips came naturally to a girl her gymnastics coach called “the beam queen.” Landing in the water, especially head-first, was a challenge.

“The difference in diving and gymnastics, and the thing they have to overcome, is learning how to ride the diving board and not treat it as a floor or a horse,” Ackerman said. “Once they discover it’s OK to fly in the air and then hit the water perpendicular, then they kind of get the gist of it.”

Davis also had to learn a little imperfection wasn’t the end of the world.

“She would try something and, with a gymnast’s attitude, if it didn’t look perfect, she didn’t want to do it again,” Ackerman said. “But she quickly overcame that. She was very adaptable. She’s been one of the easiest gymnasts to actually coach.”

Davis qualified for county in her first meet. She didn’t have enough difficulty in her diving repertoire to be eligible for state last year, but that’s obviously changed.

“I got nervous when the season was going to start again because I didn’t know if I could still do the harder ones I learned,” Davis said. “Or if I still knew what I used to be able to do. But the beginning of the practices, I did really well. I surprised myself. My muscles remembered what I could do. It was a relief.”

And a surprise to her coach.

“It didn’t even look like she had (taken the time off),” Ackerman said. “Which is pretty amazing. In fact, I asked her, ‘Let’s do a back double.’ She says, ‘OK!’ She’s just ready to go.”

Davis has continued to improve even after her record-setting effort at the Clody. Last week she broke the school mark for six dives by 15 points.

“Her determination is awesome,” Ackerman said. “She’s so quiet and reserved. But she got my coach’s choice award last year because of her progression and her willingness to try things. She’s an overall good athlete. Mentally, physically, her attitude is just amazing.

“She’s even helped her new teammates this year. (South) got three new divers and she took them under her wing at the first meet.”