The Spring Lake diving team flew solo to East Grand Rapids High School to take on the regional diving championships Thursday, looking for that elusive ticket to the Holland Aquatic Center and the state finals next weekend.
Senior Casey King earned his first trip to the championship meet, while sophomore Noah Locascio will be checking in for the second time.
“It is a really big deal for me,” King said. “I’ve been shooting for state since my freshman year, now I finally get a chance to go and represent Spring Lake. It really does mean a lot to me.”
After qualifying for the regional meet by finishing first in five separate meets, or finishing top-eight in a conference championship, four Spring Lake divers earned the chance to take on the best divers from area.
Over the course of the 11-dive competition, three cuts are made. The first after five rounds down to the top 20, the second after eight rounds to the top 16 and the third after the full 11 dive contest, when the top 12 divers punch their ticket to the state meet.
Senior Gavin DeVries and sophomore Johnny Meulenbelt joined King and Locascio as regional qualifiers for Spring Lake. All four divers finished their first five dives in the top 20, surviving the first cut.
Meulenbelt was the first to fall, missing out on the top 16 in his first regional appearance.
“I didn’t do so hot,” he said, to a groan from his teammates. “It was pretty nice to be here.”
As the top 16 fought on through the rest of their lists, the competition heated up, and DeVries knew he was on the bubble.
“I knew I messed up a little bit in the beginning, and it could come back to hurt me in the end,” he said. “But, I realized my last three dives were a higher degree of difficulty than the guy ahead of me. I just had to pull through.
“But, the 301 (reverse dive) I did wasn’t enough.”
DeVries took 13th place overall, finishing just two points behind the magic number 12.
“Tonight, getting cut by two points was pretty sad,” he said. “Over the course of my four years diving for the high school, it has meant a lot.
“Making it this far was really nice, it was the furthest I have ever made it.”
When the final scores were tallied, King made it in with a 10th place finish while Locascio took fifth.
The long journey to state is full of back smacks, hours on the trampoline, consumed weekends and belly flops, a journey that creates fierce friendships over crushing work.
“You have to have the right mindset,” DeVries said. “Your coach might say, ‘You are learning a 305 today’ and you might say, ‘No coach I don’t want to, it is going to sting.’ That is when you just send it for the boys. Let them enjoy watching you smack. It is going to sting for a little bit, but you will get it eventually. You just have to enjoy the sting.”
“We all know what it takes to be a diver and we all expect that,” King said of the sting. “We are all just on chill terms.”
Spring Lake’s head coach Tom Knight has seen his divers grow over the course of the season through encouragement and adversity.
“The dynamic between them is tremendous,” he said. “With the two seniors and sophomores. It’s a give and take situation with leadership and talent. They are just a great combination of divers.
“If someone has a really great dive, everyone congratulates them. If someone has a really rotten dive, we all applaud, record it on the TiVo, share it on Facebook, laugh about it and move on. We have all been there.”
Hopefully, the Facebook worthy smacks are firmly behind the state-bound Laker divers, at least for this season. With the state meet just one week away, they have their sights set on smooth runs.
“Making it to the final cut (top eight) would be a pretty big deal for me,” Locascio said. “I got 15th last year. Got to come back strong.”
“If they really concentrate and put their mind to it, top 16 for Casey and top eight for Noah,” coach Knight said of their hopes. “They have the dives, they just have to go out there on that particular day and do well. It is so mental.”
Locascio and King will join the Laker swimmers in an effort to take a top-tier overall finish and mark Spring Lake swim and dive as a premiere aquatic program.