Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
February 27, 2020
The competition was different, but the 1-meter springboards were the same for Kenston senior Mary O’Neill during the Division II state diving competition last Wednesday at Branin Natatorium in Canton.
After competing at the Division I big dance the past three seasons, including an eighth-place podium finish last year, the Lady Bomber ended her high school career with her best showing yet.
Ripping her entries with 125.4 points on her final three dives, O’Neill finished fourth on the state podium with an 11-dive score of 422.3 points as the best placing flyer from Northeast Ohio.
“It was kind of surreal being at my last state meet,” O’Neill said. “It was really nice to be able to compete against everyone in DII, especially my (American Flyers Diving) teammates. I love competing with Kate (LaMonica) and Amanda (Leizman), and I thought it was a really solid meet for myself.”
Chagrin Falls junior Kate LaMonica finished fifth with 419.1 points, while Beachwood senior Amanda Leizman took eighth with 406.3 points. The trio competes on AFD under head coach Marc Cahalane during club season.
O’Neill was ranked eighth after the preliminary round of five dives, notably hitting her inward 1 1/2-somersalt pike for 40.8 points, while her reserve dive pike, a lower degree-of-difficulty voluntary dive, scored 39.95 points with an 8 1/2 from one judge.
“My inward 1 1/2 is usually pretty good,” she said. “It’s just, sometimes I turn on the bottom of it, so, every once in a while I’ll get fours on it because I’m twisting. But I was just really focused on staying straight.”
In the semifinal round of three dives, O’Neill moved up three spots in the standings in large part due to her back 1 1/2 pike scoring 41.4 points.
Then she jumped one more place in the finals with her back 1 1/2 with a 1/2 twist scoring 40.95 points, her front 2 1/2 tuck scoring 39.6 points and her front double pike scoring a list-high 44.85 points on her last dive.
“That was actually the second time I competed it this year, because, at district warm-ups, I hit my foot on the board on my inward double, so I didn’t want do that again,” O’Neill said. “And we threw a front double pike in there, because we knew I competed it in the past.
“And I was kind of nervous for it, but it was so nice, because, right as I finished the dive, I could see the water and just knew it was going to be such a good dive.”
Chagrin’s LaMonica, meanwhile, was making her third trip to states, finishing eighth on the podium as a freshman in 2018 and 10th as a sophomore last season.
The Lady Tiger flyer said she had a chip on her shoulder.
“Last year I didn’t do so hot, so I was really grateful that I was able to finish higher up on the podium this year,” LaMonica said. “Last year, my last dive, I guess my nerves got to me a little bit and I scored really low on it. So, I finished 10th, which wasn’t ideal. But this year I nailed all my dives.”
LaMonica finished her 2020 prelim round ranked sixth, with her back 1 1/2 pike scoring 41.4 points to jump seven spots in the standings after a pair of voluntary dives.
Then in the semifinals, LaMonica moved all the way up to third, with her inward 1 1/2 pike scoring 45.6 points and her back single with 1 1/2 twists scoring 44.85 points as a voluntary dive.
“My inward 1 1/2 is usually one of the dives that I hit, so it was good that I was able to hit it again,” she said. “But I don’t like to know what place I’m in. I feel like I can’t deal with that pressure.”
After ending her 2019 state meet on a sour note, LaMonica scored a list-high 46.6 points on her front 2 1/2 tuck to culminate her 2020 competition.
“It was one of my highest-scoring dives of the meet, so I was really grateful that I was able to do that,” she said. “I was just hoping that the same thing wouldn’t happen as it did last year. But, at districts, I nailed that dive too. So, I was pretty confident in myself that I was able to do the same.”
In the Division II boys competition, meanwhile, Kenston sophomore Clay Foster was making his state debut and entered the big dance seeded 14th from his district performance.
But the Bomber flyer had a heck of a preliminary round, including 44.4 points on his front 2 1/2 tuck, to start his competition in fifth after five dives.
“I felt I started it really well, spun fast, and I was able to get through the water pretty clean,” Foster said of his front 2 1/2. “And I was really excited. I knew when I got out of the water that it was a good dive, and the score showed.”
Foster dropped to eighth place in the semifinal round but retained podium position, with a pair of lower-DD voluntary dives in the mix. But making the final cut of 16 divers helped him settle in and finish strong, he said.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Foster said. “But it was amazing. It was one of the most fun meets I’ve been to. I knew I was seeded 14th and would have been happy if I did better than I did at districts, but I had no idea I would do as well as I did. When I saw the podium was within reach, I tried my hardest to get there, and it paid off.”
Foster remained in eighth through his ninth and 10th dives, and then he moved up a spot with 40.25 points on his front double pike to finish seventh on the state podium.
Foster earned his 2020 state hardware on the heels of missing out on a Division I state berth by one spot in district competition during his freshman campaign.
“I train all year round with my club team, American Flyers Diving,” said Foster, who qualified for AAU nationals last summer. “I’ve been on the club team for 3 1/2 years. So, I just really trained hard all offseason to get there. And I was super excited to end on a really high note. I was just ecstatic to be on the podium.”
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