At the 2017 D2 State Championships, the ORHS Boys’ Swimming and Diving Team clinched first place for the fourth year in a row. In 2016, the dominating ORHS Girls’ Team won first for their fourth time as well. Many credit their victories to the group of fast swimmers but a strong diving program can be the difference between first and second place.
The Oyster River Diving Team has had varying numbers over the years, but with one diver this year, no feeder program and varying results in diving at the national level, the ORHS diving program has suffered a major loss in interest.
When the current Oyster River Diving coach, Lynn Santosusso, began in 2014, the team had 12 divers. Since then, the diving team has had as many as 10 divers, but typically, there were between 5-7 members.
The 2017-18 diving team was the exception.
This year’s diving team consisted of one Oyster River student, Xanthi Russell (’20), and one Newmarket student, Lucas Russell (’19), of no relation. Xanthi Russell was fairly new to diving, when she joined her freshman year. Her only exposure to the sport was from her brothers, Nicholás (’07) and Arturo (’10) Jaras Watts, who both dove in high school.
Coming in with little to no experience is not an uncommon thing for high school divers because there are not a lot of options for potential divers to start learning before high school. “Early on, I was teaching diving as part as the [Oyster River Otters Club Swim Team] and that became the ‘feeder’ team for ORHS, just as it is for swimmers on the high school team,” explained Santosusso.
A feeder team is an often used baseball term that describes a minor league team, owned by a major league team, that trains players until they are ready or needed. In the world of diving, a feeder team provides early learning for potential members and allows them to have experience before joining a competitive team. Santosusso adds that the feeder team, “drew more interest for diving when other swimmers saw this as an option to try.”
Emma Larson (’16), a collegiate diver at University of Delaware who passed through the ORHS Diving Team, agrees that there is a correlation between the fewer numbers of divers and the lack of a feeder team. “I think if we had a program for younger kids, we could build up an amazing team.”
Unfortunately with the growing size of the Otters, it became increasingly more difficult to provide space to the feeder team, which is why the program has not been offered for a few years. However, Santosusso is hopeful that this program will not be gone forever and will help to increase numbers in the diving program in the following years.
Santosusso is the current diving coach for ORHS, but her history began while she was in the US Army, where she dove for fun. In 1995, she became certified as a US Diving Coach at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and began coaching the ORHS team in 2004. In her experience, she finds that a larger team, in the 6-7 members range, is the most beneficial. “There becomes a tight camaraderie, a little friendly competitiveness and everybody helps each other which also builds more confidence in new divers,” explains Santosusso.
In addition to the local factors that impact the diving team, there are national factors that should be taken into account. Diving boards themselves present many problems to local pools. Not only are there depth requirements, there is a greater risk of severe injuries. Santosusso adds that there are also fewer trained instructors. In the professional aspect of this sport, American divers have not taken the top podium at the Olympics consistently. In fact, in the 2016 Olympics, all but one gold medal was won by China; the lone gold went to Great Britain for the Men’s Synchronized 3 Meter Springboard.
The lack of interest and feeder program is apparent in the number of participants, but there are still natural pathways to get involved in diving. Russell is an active competitive dancer and Larson was a gymnast and cheerleader of 7 years. Both believe that joining the team was a natural transition. Larson adds that there was an initial learning curve.
“Diving becomes more about working with the board, riding the flow of the bounce, and waiting to the top of the lift instead of forcing it to do what you want when you want.” The transition from gymnast to diver is one that is found in the professional world as well. Alexandra Croak was gymnast for the 2000 Australian Olympic team but switched to diving in 2003. She competed again in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but this time as a diver.
To join the diving team, there is no expectation to be an Olympic gymnast. “You kind of just hop on the board your first of practice, and wherever your comfort level is, you start from there,” says Russell, speaking about how her lack of experience didn’t hold her back.
Recent graduate, Moses Strout (’16), opted to join the team for a fun activity to do with his friends. “I just decided, ‘Screw it. Why not!’ I actually joined to be a swimmer, but switched the 3rd day in.” Strout also had no experience when he started on the high school team.
“Anybody who wants to try diving, come to a practice next year and start out see if it’s for you, because I guarantee that if you get into it, you’ll really love it,” says Russell, adding, “Keep an open mind. Face your fears. There have been dives that I’ve had to do, and I’ve been just terrified, but I just get on the board and do it.”
We will have to wait and see what the diving team will look like next year, but both current and graduated members are hopeful for the future. Santosusso adds, “I would also like students to know that you need no experience to join the team and learn how to dive. You just need to want to try new things and trust in your abilities by pushing your limits past you comfort zone.”