Saturday will mark the first time in a full month since any of the four remaining Wyoming Valley Conference divers last competed in a meet.
The most important meet of the season is exactly 28 days since they last competed at the District 2 Class 2A Diving Championships in Wilkes-Barre. Last week’s blizzard forced the PIAA’s hand in postponing the state diving meet to this weekend at Bucknell University.
Hopefully, rust is permeable for three Dallas girls and one Tunkhannock boys diver. All four are within reach of returning home with a state medal.
“The hardest part is keeping them motivated,” Dallas coach Paul Mierzwa said. “It seems like forever since they last competed.”
The Mountaineers are led by district champion Lexi Spaciano. Her teammates Maddy Ross and Gianna Leo will join her on the springboard.
Tunkhannock’s Sawyer Aitken makes his second appearance at states after finishing second at districts. No WVC divers qualified for the Class 3A competition.
Spaciano came home early from her family’s vacation to Florida for the meet. The junior looks to get her first state medal. Last year, Spaciano had the district’s best performance when she took 10th place with a 337.3 score.
She features a slightly higher degree of difficulty this year. Her coach said that she needs to stay focused and allow her talent to take form in her dives.
“She’s put the time in,” Mierzwa said. “They all know what they have to do. It’s a matter of whether they can keep their skills sharp.”
Ross finished in 16th place last year with a 283.6. Leo is competing in her first state championships.
Aitken came in 14th place at the 2016 championships with a 321.6 score.
Dallas originally planned to leave for the PIAAs on March 14, and they only lost two days of practice due to the weather. Mierzwa said the “mental part is more important than the physical part” right now. All three of the Dallas divers traveled to Lewisburg last week to cheer on their teammates at the swimming championships.
“It’s about keeping them happy,” Mierzwa said. “It’s tough to keep your adrenaline up for two weeks.”
Both Ross and Leo competed well against many of their state foes at an earlier meet at Parkland High School. Ross reached the finals in a field that included many Class 3A state qualifiers.
Spaciano missed the meet due to an illness.
The highly subjective and inaccurate diving psych sheets peg Spaciano and Ross neck-and-neck in 11th and 12th places, respectively. Leo stands just outside the group in 17th place. Aitken’s 391.55 puts him even with Spaciano in 11th. Unlike swimming psychs, diving is hard to calibrate because of different districts’ officials scoring preferences.
Mierzwa anticipates an unusual and hard to predict atmosphere at the championships. With swimming already completed, the pool deck is going to be limited to only the 24 divers and their respective coaches.
“It’s either going to be really relaxed or more stressful,” he said. “I don’t know what to expect.”
At states, Mierzwa said, Dallas will approach the meet differently than it had at districts, in terms of order of dives. The Mountaineers want to ensure that they qualify for the out rounds.
Expect for the first dive of the afternoon to set the tone. With so much time since their last competition, momentum and mental fortitude will play a huge factor.
“The first five for most major meets makes or breaks you,” Mierzwa noted. “They know how to do the dives. When they hit the first dive well, the confidence carries with them the rest of the day. When they struggle, you begin to see divers get stressed about their upcoming rounds.”
The girls’ competition begins at 1:45 p.m., followed by the boys at 6:15 p.m. Due to the change in schedule, the meet will not be broadcast on PCN; however, it will be available through the NFHS Network with links found at paswimming.com.
Reach Times Leader sports at 570-829-7143 or on Twitter @TLsports