Just a year ago, Nick Garberina finished less than a point away from winning his first state diving title – and that despite being a relative newcomer to the sport.
The finish – and the circumstances surrounding it – motivated Garberina to work harder.
His hard work paid off for the Pine Lake Prep sophomore, who turned in a record-setting performance in winning the boys’ 1-meter diving title at the 2016 N.C. High School Athletics Association 1A/2A state swimming and diving championships in Cary.
Garberina, 15, won the title by scoring 456.25 points over his 12-dive performance, beating defending state champ Ryan Ballant of Franklin by 144.9 points (311.35).
Garberina’s score shattered the NCHSAA 1A/2A state record score of 380.15, set by Lake Norman Charter’s Nathan Lane in 2013.
“(Last year) definitely drove me a lot,” Garberina said. “It definitely helped me practice a lot harder, just to get back there.
“But I’m surprised I dove that well. That was my best score ever, and definitely my best meet. I was definitely happy with my performance at that meet; I couldn’t be any happier.”
The previous year, Garberina finished just 8/10ths of a point behind Ballant for the 1A/2A title despite battling the flu and learning new dives the day before the finals.
That wasn’t a problem this year, though.
“I expanded what I did the previous year,” Garberina said. “Last year, I was primarily doing all tucks; at this meet, I did all pikes except for one tuck, which was a really high-difficulty dive.
“At regionals, (Ballant) was ‘Oh, you’re going to beat me.’ He told me that before the meet. I was doing that much better than the previous year.”
Quite an accomplishment, considering Garberina took up diving in December 2014 after more than a decade as a competitive gymnast.
The move from the mat to the pool came at the prompting of Pine Lake Prep classmate Maddie Marsh, who had tried diving herself before sticking with swimming.
“Gymnastics had gotten really boring for me,” Garberina said. “I had nothing else to do, so I took that up. Then Aaron (Hintz, his coach at Huntersville’s Carolina Dive Academy) saw me and asked if I wanted to wanted to practice year-round. That’s what I did.”
Garberina’s progress since then has been nothing but surprising. In addition to his performances at the NCHSAA state meets, he’s also qualified for the U.S. Junior Nationals in the 1-meter and 5-meter platform in his age group.
“If I hadn’t seen him dive from the beginning, I’d be surprised,” Hintz said. “But he was a high-level gymnast coming in, so it was just a question of transferring his skills that he came in with.
“He picked up things methodically, in order, as he went along, so nothing’s been surprising. It’s been surprising progress, but you could see it happen right in front of you.”
And Garberina is looking forward to next year’s state championships.
“I can definitely do better – I just need to practice a little bit more,” he said. “Hopefully, next year I can beat my own state record.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer: BKiserCLTObs@gmail.com.