There’s an adage among coaches that “divers are God’s gift to swim teams.”
Compared to their swimming counterparts, divers are very introverted creatures. During meets, divers are typically found in the corner of the natatorium, mentally preparing themselves for the brief number seconds spent flying, twisting and turning in the air before dipping into the water. If anything, the hushed diving championships are a far cry from singing, dancing and general theatrics that happen a week later at the swimming championships.
It was one Holy Redeemer girls diver who made the most noise during this year’s swimming and diving season.
The Times Leader selects Holy Redeemer senior Kelsey Williams as its Girls Swimming and Diving Athlete of the Year. Williams came out of obscurity to win the Class 2A district championship and receive a silver medal at the PIAA championships in March.
“I think little by little I began to realize what I was accomplishing,” Williams said. “It didn’t really hit me there at states. It wasn’t all at once.”
Williams wasn’t on the radar for the area’s top aquatics athlete entering this season. She placed fourth at districts as a junior. She pulverized the competition at districts with a 415.8 score – 97.55 points higher than the second-place finisher. At PIAAs, Williams embraced the underdog mentality, earning second in the state with 399.35 mark.
“She was pretty much an unknown, and all of a sudden she rises to the occasion,” Royals coach Mara Pawlenok said. “States were unbelievable. She had a great warm-up. Her diving coach gave her such a talk. He said, ‘Whatever happens, let’s take it dive for dive.’ After the first few dives, we knew she was on to something special.”
It was a change of diving coaches that changed the course for Williams. Without a diving coach two months before the season, Pawlenok reached out to Wyoming Valley West’s Rob Jacobs to coach the Royals divers. Jacobs, who retired this March from coaching, accepted the offer. Williams was able to compete in practice against the Spartans’ Karina Zabresky and evolved into the state’s second-best diver.
“I give all the credit to her diving coach Rob Jacobs,” Pawlenok said. “She was always a good diver. She just needed some good coaching and confidence. He was inspiring – tough on her in the right amount.”
“He really knows how a diver thinks,” Williams said. “He’s been coaching for a really long time. All the psychology behind the sport, he understands. Diving is 75 percent mental.”
Williams’ transformation enabled her to aspire to swim collegiately. She says she is “99 percent sure” she is attending the University of Pittsburgh next year as a walk-on. She will major in engineering.
“Diving is a specialty sport,” Pawlenok said. “What Kelsey did takes courage and commitment. Even now after she took second at states, it still gives me the sugars.”