On a recent Monday afternoon, Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics was bubbling with its usual activity.
Encompassing the length of the 50-meter pool were swim team members swimming laps, buoyant synchronized swimmers refining their choreographed moves, and Carolina Diving Academy divers perilously flipping from boards and platforms and piercing the water’s surface.
Guess which one of these sports has the least to do with the others?
“The only thing diving has in common with swimming is getting out of the water,” says Aaron Hintz, the Academy’s director and head coach.
That’s why almost to a man, and woman, members of the Academy’s Elite Team have a strong background in gymnastics and not swimming.
On Feb. 10-12, CDA divers will step away from their academy routine and compete in the public schools state swimming and diving championships. Those divers, many who live in the Lake Norman area, take great pride in representing their high schools and will use this meet as a spring board for the beginning of their spring-and-summer competition schedule.
The Elite Team, comprised of highly skilled divers who are mostly high school age, is just one skill set to which CDA provides coaching and services. CDA covers all ages and interests from the pre-lesson class for 5- to 7-year-called diveKids to the Masters program for adults.
The diving academy program already existed when Hintz arrived to lead it in 2007. At the same time, he was named head diving coach at Davidson College.
“I was tasked with growing a (CDA) diving program that was a good fiscal balance between a public service of providing diving and one carrying its own weight,” said Hintz. “It needed to be self sustaining so that it was bringing in enough money to support diving and not just swimming.”
In less than 10 years, the program has grown from a couple dozen students to approximately 160 at its peak time of year, which is now. CDA’s enrollment grew this winter because the academy signed an agreement with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to coach all divers who compete for their high schools.
Some of academy’s top divers, who also compete on regional and national levels through USA Diving and AAU, attend Lake Norman area schools. Hough particularly has a strong presence.
Hough junior Jocelyn Porter placed second at last year’s 4A diving state championships. In August, she finished eighth in the 3-meter springboard event at the USA Diving Junior Nationals.
“I like making it to the top every year but it’s about the journey of getting there,” said Porter. “It’s about going to practices, setting those little goals, and making those goals happen.
It’s great looking back on the year and seeing how I’ve developed.”
Jenni Giacalone, a Hough junior, missed last year’s state high school meet due to a diving injury. She won the 4A state championship as a freshman and is excited about contending for a title again.
Last year’s 3A state champion was a CDA product, Nikki Canale, a junior at Marvin Ridge in Union County. She set a state championship meet record with a final score of 511.60. In August, she represented CDA at the prestigious USA Diving senior nationals.
Porter, Canale, and Giacalone all were competitive gymnastics before becoming divers, as was Olivia Tarpley, a Hough freshman. When she started diving four years ago, Tarpley was surprised by all she needed to learn about diving before she touched the water. Preliminary training amounts to a week’s worth of “dry land” training that includes work on trampolines and ropes and harnesses.
“I used to always do twisters a certain way and come up to my flips,” said Tarpley. “As soon as I started diving I was told ‘No, that’s not right. That’s the gymnastics way. You have to do it the diving way. I thought, that doesn’t make any sense. But I learned the right way after hitting the water the wrong way a couple times.”
Many Elite Team members, who train year around including seven-hour practice sessions in the summer, have aspirations to dive in college and even make the U.S. Olympic Team. There are Olympic Games being held this summer, but a more realistic goal for any of them is to shoot for the year 2020.
Hintz says there are former CDA divers currently competing at UNC, NC State, and Clemson. Katelyn Abernathy, a Hough senior, has committed to James Madison.
HFFA and CDA occasionally host important diving competitions. Last June, they hosted a USA Diving zone meet that 300 divers attended. Hintz says they are being considered for hosting AAU Nationals this summer.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.