Divers spring into action at Meramec
Alex Guess, senior, performs a variety of dives at the Meramec aquatics center in a meet against Clayton High School Sept. 27. The Pioneers won 116-74 and Guess had a score of 226.35.
Daniel Witt sports editor
tanding 1 meter above the shimmering water, Alex Guess visualizes his eventual dive. In the next few seconds, every movement must be carried out both precisely and quickly. Guess gives himself a subtle reminder: ‘Don’t freak out.’ As a senior, Guess is the oldest of four male divers competing for KHS. These divers use Newton’s third law--any action will have an equal and opposite reaction--to transfer two to three times their body weight onto a springboard and catapult themselves into the air. The angles of their arms and bodies control their spin and can create one of four basic diving positions: straight, pike, tuck and free. Three judges each take the score of the dive and multiply it by the difficulty. After adding up all three numbers, a final score is given to the diver. Guess has made a habit of earning high scores in meets. He recorded a personal best score of 231.40 Sept. 21 and is averaging a score of 215.53 in six meets this season. As a result, for the first time Guess has qualified for the Missouri State Championship Nov. 18 at Saint Peters Rec-Plex. However, he has not always been a die-hard diver. After participating in gymnastics for seven years, the time commitment became too in-
tense for Guess by seventh grade. He would soon find the transition from swinging on bars to diving off a springboard to be natural. “My favorite part of gymnastics was flipping,” Guess said. “I just like to flip. I don’t know how to describe it really.” But while Guess has used diving as a transition from gymnastics, another KHS diver is using it as practice for a different sport. Matt Day, junior, started diving for KHS this year. Day had been a soccer goalie the past two years at KHS. He decided to try diving in hopes it would help him with another sport he competes in: pole vaulting. “Over the summer I would just go off the diving boards,” Day said. “Soccer wasn’t working out, and I was told diving helped with pole vaulting and body control so I thought I might as well.” Day has been surprised with the similarities in movements and quick thinking executed in the air for both sports. Day said both pole vaulting and diving take a large amount of core body strength along with the ability to be flexible and acrobatic. To build core body strength as well as back strength, Steve Braun, KHS assistant swim and dive coach, will occasionally have his divers do pushups, crunches or perform handstands. He also has his four divers work their dive mechanics on padded mats during practice at Meramec.
To earn a high score, the mechanics of a dive must be near perfect. Points are deducted for flailing movements in the air as well as a sloppy entry to the pool. A diver’s body must at least have the illusion of being nearly vertical when entering the pool. Braun also has his divers constantly learning new dives by yelling out commands while the diver is airborne. Guess said learning a new dive normally takes two to four practices. But while Braun will have his divers constantly practicing the physical aspects of diving, he believes the sport is 95 percent mental. Because of all the quick movements divers have to execute in the air, Guess said a clear mind is essential. “I just try to block out every other thing so that I can focus on the important things,” Guess said. “[You need] determination. You can’t just chicken out.” Day said mental focus is crucial for the riskreward factor. “You have to think fast because all the motions you do are within seconds of each other. If you’re not focused you’re going to flop and it’s going to hurt,” Day said. “But if you’re focused and you’re not scared of what could happen I think it can be easy to get things down.” Braun said diving develops athlete’s bodies and minds in this way. “For any sport it is good for students to
be involved,” Braun said. “Diving builds confidence, builds strength. It helps you overcome fear and overcome pain. Diving is more of a fear factor. It is for this reason I think divers are a different breed.” Guess thinks diving should get more attention as a sport that takes a lot of backbone and bravery. However, both divers and their coach said the Olympics have drawn more attention to the sport. “If you watched the 2012 Olympics, they had hours of diving,” Braun said. “From watching that, there is more public knowledge. People are now more knowledgeable of what diving is. However, the public does not know what it’s like to step up on a 10-meter diving board and dive off.” Now Day knows what that feeling is like. He has developed the skills, transforming what was once a leisurely activity into a competitive high school sport. “My dad used to dive, so growing up I used to mess around on the diving boards, try to teach myself stuff,” Day said. “So I always liked it. Now that I can do it well and with technique I think it’s a whole new level.”
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Katlyn Kreie photographer