SOUTHWEST ORANGE Just under seven miles away from Olympia High School sits the YMCA Aquatic and Family Center.
The ties to Olympia and the YMCA run deeper than proximity, though. The Olympia girls swimming and diving team, which just placed third at the Pinch-A-Penny 2015 Florida High School Swimming and Diving State Championships, trains there during the season.
YCF Diving, a club that trains year-round, is also located at the facility, and three Olympia girls divers who placed in the top 10 at state — along with one boy diver — are among the Titans who dive for YCF as their club team. These divers contributed to Olympia’s success this fall, helping to dominate this year’s state diving competition even as the team lost seniors from the previous year.
“All four of them had competed in the (USA National Diving Championships) this summer and did really well,” said Tom Nielsen, the Olympia swimming coach. “That gave us an idea of where we stood and knew that we could count on the divers to help us along into the championship season.”
Three of these placed in the top 10 at states, which took place in Stuart. Makayla Robillard finished second, Maggie Merriman fourth and Victoria Moretti fifth.
Jack Dowd, a junior on the Olympia boys swim team, placed eighth in the dive competition.
“All four of them had competed in the (USA National Diving Championships) this summer and did really well. That gave us an idea of where we stood and knew that we could count on the divers to help us along into the championship season.” -Tom Nielsen
Although it is unusual for a program’s divers to be the strong point for a high-school swimming team, it’s also not unheard of — especially when the divers participate in club competition.
“Not a lot of high schools have divers that can score as high as us,” said Robillard.
Diving in a club atmosphere helps prepare swimmers for competition in high school.
“We train year-round, and we compete year-round, as well, against some of the best divers in the country in their respective age group,” said Mark Ruiz, the YCF Diving head coach who works with the divers from Olympia.
The club competition can be helpful, but it is important to note that high-school diving is quite different. In club diving, athletes can compete from the platform — diving from five, seven-and-one half, and 10 meters. But, in highschool diving, the only event is not on the platform, with diving taking place from one meter.
And platform feels quite different from the one meter.
“The flipping ability — I feel like that’s the same, but springboard and platform are completely two different parts of the take off,” said Moretti, who is committed to the University of Arkansas.
Sometimes divers who excel in high-school competition are even stronger on the platform.
A sophomore this year, Merriman placed fourth at states. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Merriman won a junior national title at the USA Diving National Championships for platform diving Aug. 9 — the second time she had won a national title.
Despite the difference of the respective dives, she still knows practicing with YCF helps her in high-school competition.
“We train these dives all year, so that helps that we have these dives under our belt,” Merriman said.
Robillard prefers to compete at the three-meter event, which is not an event from the tower but is also not included in high-school competition. The senior, who will be diving for Louisiana State University in the fall, had mixed feelings about her second-place performance at states.
“I was happy but also kind of disappointed at the same time, because it was my senior year and I really wanted to win,” Robillard said. “But I didn’t think about winning the whole time, I was just (saying), ‘I’m going to do the best that I can.'”
Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected].