Lady Tigers diving on the road to 4A league championships |

Lady Tigers diving on the road to 4A league championships

4A Western Slope League Swim and Dive Championships

What: The league championship meet for boy’s and girl’s swim and dive teams in the 4A Western Slope, including Summit, Aspen, Durango, Glenwood Springs and more

When: Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 5-6

Where: Colorado Mesa University, Grand Junction

All divers complete 11 dives at leagues. The league championships are the final meet before the 4A State High School Championships at Veterans Memorial Aquatics Center in Thornton. Divers must score 310 or higher in 11 dives to qualify for state.

Ask Laurel Bonner or Abby Hiller for their thoughts on the league diving championships this weekend and the girls will tell you one thing: they just want to have fun.

“My biggest goal is to just have fun out there,” said Bonner, a lifelong gymnast who picked up diving her first year at Summit High School. “It’s a blast, a way to meet new people and just have a good time with your friends.”

Hiller agrees. She’s one of Bonner’s best friends and, like just about everyone on the Lady Tigers team of eight divers, she’s a former gymnast who traded the gym for the pool as a freshman.

Now juniors, the two girls have been in this position before: both performed well enough to make the league diving finals last season, along with yet another gymnast-turned-diver, fellow junior Abby Charneskie.

“I’m a little nervous but I feel like I’m pretty well prepared,” Hiller said. “I just want to have fun with it.”

Yet ask head dive coach Joe Baldwin for his thoughts on leagues and he’ll tell you something a little different. He wants his top divers to have fun, but he also believes they’ll turn heads in the process.

“I hope we finish one-two-three in the league meet and I think that’s totally possible,” said Baldwin, a former Tigers diver who took over as head coach seven seasons back. “If they do their dives in the meet like they do in practice they can absolutely sweep it. We can absolutely do that.”

The road to leagues

Baldwin’s optimism isn’t far-fetched. Last year, the Tigers trio barely missed the finals podium: Charneskie in fourth, Hiller in fifth and Bonner in sixth. With a week to go before the league meet, all three were working with Baldwin to nail down new and more technical dives: a back double somersault for Hiller, a reverse somersault with a half twist for Charneskie, a back somersault with 1.5 twists for Bonner and front double somersaults for all three, which bumps their degree of difficulty into the state-qualifying range.

In other words, these are the dives they need for a sweep.

“Getting that degree of difficulty up can really change things for us,” Baldwin said from the deck of the SHS pool. “I’m a perfectionist when it comes to diving. I want to see them do it right. This coming week will be very intensive — a lot of work — but it’s nice that they compete against each other.”

Friendly competition is one of the Tigers secret weapons. For most of the season — and just about every season for as long as Baldwin has been coach — the Summit divers usually face each other at meets. Just about every six-dive meet in the regular season comes down to a battle between Hiller, Charneskie and Bonner.

“It’s nice to have that supportive group when you’re competing,” Charneskie said. “For me, it makes me do better. I’m not as concerned about figuring out how girls I haven’t seen before are diving. It’s just a better environment for competing.”

The league meet is a slightly different story. There, the Tigers will face two of their fiercest foes: Durango and Glenwood Springs. At the Glenwood Springs Winter Invite on Jan. 30, Summit’s Sophie Imamura had a career-best score (156.60) to finish in second, sandwiched between two Durango divers. She was the only Tiger to break the top-three, although Bonner broke a personal record and took fourth with a 147.45.

“It was one of the first meets where we could choose the dives we wanted, so I picked the ones I’m really good at,” said Bonner, who’s specialty is full twists, or a 360 for you skiers and riders out there. “Everyone on the team has something they’re good at and I’m glad I was able to find my thing, the twisters.”

The league meet format is also slightly different. Rather than a sequence of six dives, the girls perform a sequence of 11 dives: two front dives, two reverse dives (walking forward to dive backward), two back dives (facing backward to dive backward), two inward dives (facing backward to dive forward) and three of the athlete’s choice.

“I used to be really scared of the diving board, learning new dives,” said Hiller, who remembers watching a teammate hit the board her first year. “Now it doesn’t really phase me. It’s way more exciting now to just do those harder dives.”

Like Hiller says, performing a variety of inverts in all four directions is nearly second nature for a group of former gymnasts. The toughest part is perfecting the form of a diver — and that’s where coach Baldwin comes in.

“Diving is all about looking pretty,” he said with a smile. “That’s what I like to tell them.”

That, and the cold water.

“It’s cool to learn new dives and hang out with friends after school and just have fun,” Bonner said. “The only thing I dread is getting in the pool because it’s really cold. Then you have to leave the building and it’s cold out and your hair freezes. That’s about the only thing I dread. And maybe a reverse.”

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