Mid-Columbia sends quintet of divers to state

November 7, 2012 

Watch out, west side.

The Tri-Cities has become a launching pad for top diving talent.

This weekend, Southridge junior Danielle Freund, Kamiakin junior Danielle Brandon and senior Jessica Anderson, and Richland senior Carly Garland will compete at the WIAA state championships in Federal Way for the second year in a row.

Hanford sophomore Kayla Lasater will join Freund, Brandon and Anderson among the 24 divers in the Class 3A meet.

“We stepped up our expectations as far as what the girls should be able to do,” Southridge/Kennewick dive coach Mike Sandbeck said. “We’re all positive. All the coaches help each other, and the girls want to come to practice.”

It also doesn’t hurt that all five developed their twisting and flipping ability as gymnasts.

In 2011, Brandon earned an individual state title on the beam, and she and Anderson helped Kamiakin win the team championship. Garland and Lasater also have gone to state.

“Gymnastics is more frustrating, that’s for sure,” said Brandon, a gymnast for almost eight years. “It’s just that I’m a perfectionist, so I like to perfect every little detail, but with diving, I like to have the most fun with it. I have fun with gymnastics, but I’m not as stressed with diving.”

Even so, there still is plenty to remember.

“When they hit a springboard and take off, they have to be more patient and ride it up. A gymnast takes a little bit longer with that,” Kamiakin gymnastics/dive coach Sarah Garrett said. “And a diver rotates a little different from when a gymnast does it. She’s leaving from the ground or a beam or upside down on the bar, and they twist a little differently.”

Anderson said the body awareness she gained in gymnastics didn’t prepare her for everything when she started diving as a freshman.

“I was really afraid of a reverse, where you run forward and flip backwards and dive out of it,” she said. “I was really scared of the board, but my coach helped me. Once I got that, I was able to move on and go on to better and bigger things, forward levels. Just the chance that I had to succeed got me over the fear that I had.”

Freund used to compete in gymnastics before stress fractures in her foot ended her career. In diving, she has a legitimate chance for a state medal after winning the Mukilteo Invitational last month at the Federal Way pool and repeating as district champion a few weeks later in Ellensburg.

Freund also is the area’s top returning state finisher. Last year, she was 11th, with Brandon two spots behind. Anderson, in 17th place, just missed advancing to the second day of competition. Garland placed 19th in the Class 4A preliminaries.

“It’s a lot more serious than districts or the other meets,” Freund said, “but if you find the right diver, some are friendly. They like to keep their mind off their dives, or others like to go off on their own. Whatever works.”

But rewards in diving often come with plenty of risk.

At practice earlier this year, Freund did a face plant into the water while attempting a new dive. She suffered a concussion that kept her sidelined for most of the league season.

“Danielle (Brandon) and I have both smacked really hard trying these things,” Anderson said. “My worst thing was my ankle. It was from gymnastics. I rolled it on the beam, and I tried to dive on it, and it rolled again. I still dove most of the time.”

There can be a bond among divers when it comes to understanding the dangers of their sport, but a divide tends to appear at state when the Eastern Washington divers compete against the Seattle-area powers.

Garland, who qualified for state this year as the Class 4A district champion, said good coaching and her gymnastics background helped her overcome a lack of resources in the Tri-Cities.

“I wish there was indoor diving,” Garland said. “It would increase the amount of divers that would come in, and then they could dive all year round instead of going to Moses Lake or Yakima.”

When they are unable to leave the Tri-Cities for pool practice, Freund and her teammates head to All American Gymnastics in Richland for simulation drills.

“It’s a lot harder for us to excel in diving because we don’t have an indoor facility to practice in,” Freund said. “When I go to the west side to compete against their divers, they’re excelling a lot faster than we are. It’s hard to keep up the competitive edge.”

But this year’s local crop of state divers might convince other talented athletes to give the sport a shot.

“A couple of my friends, they have some background in gymnastics, and I said, ‘You should try out for dive,’ ” Lasater said. “They’d probably be pretty good at it.”

They might even exceed their greatest expectations.

Just a few years ago, Anderson saw others going to state and wondered whether she would get to compete there once, let alone twice.

“The fact that I’m in that spot now,” she said, “it’s hard to believe people are looking at me that way. ‘I want to learn to do that.’ That’s awesome.”

w Katie Dorsey: 582-1526; kdorsey@tricityherald.com

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