All alone on the diving board

Divers provide boost for teams, but the sport isn’t for the faint of heart

Naugatuck’s Katie Brown completes her dive during a meet against Sacred Heart on Sept. 18 at Naugatuck High School. Brown won the event at the meet. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

You make your final approach and the only sound you hear is your heart beating in your chest. The stands along the poolside are virtually silent. It’s you alone on the diving board; the center of everyone’s attention.

One, two, three bounces on the board and you lift yourself into a spinning somersault while trying to finish with a twisting motion as you break the surface of the water hoping your entry doesn’t create too big of a splash.

Diving is certainly not an athletic event for the faint of heart. It takes nerves of steel, a nimble body and a relentless pursuit of perfection.

Naugatuck senior divers Katie Brown and Brin Battisti have been posting personal bests this season and are one of the main reasons that the Greyhounds have a good chance of competing with the top teams when the Naugatuck Valley League battles it out at the championship meet in a few weeks.

“If we can go two and three we can get our team around 50 points and that would be huge going into the swim portion of the meet,” said Brown, who nailed a season-high score of 221.47 against St. Paul on Sept. 28.

“My hurdles have gotten a lot better and a lot higher than last year,” Brown added. “One of the hardest parts of diving is the mental approach. You need to get over that if you want to see improvement.”

Battisti has also increased her scores this season, posting a season-best of 172.80.

“Coach McKee has been great working with us,” Battisti said. “And coach Dave Cronin help us as well. But a lot depends on knowing what we need to do and following a routine. We need to hold ourselves accountable. We have both worked very hard to get better and we are looking to be at our best in the NVL championship.”

The CIAC and USA diving have five categories of dives: front, twists, back, inward and reverse. Divers’ scores on each dive are multiplied by the degree of difficulty to get a final score.

There is no doubt that a diving coach can bring out the best in those who possess the will to catapult off a diving board.

Woodland diving coach Doug Mariano has seen his share of champions in his six years coaching at Naugatuck and eight more at Woodland.

This season, Mariano has a pair of senior divers in Alyssa Van Alstyne and Adrianna Byczko to work with at Woodland. Van Alstyne and Byczko have both posted winning scores this season.

Van Alstyne’s resumes includes diving wins during meets versus Waterford on Sept. 12 and Torrington on Sept. 28 with scores of 195.25 and 181.43, respectively. Byczko won the event during a Sept. 18 meet against St. Paul with a score of 169.80.

“Both of our senior divers are working hard and getting better each week,” Mariano said. “We are also working with several freshmen, Shaelin DiGioia, Kayleigh Theroux, Natalie Tuohy and Adrianna Heeman.”

Byczko injured her ankle a couple of times when she was a cheerleader, so she decided to give diving a try. She constantly tries to push herself on the board and expand her skills.

“I found a sport that I really like, and I can do well in,” Byczko said. “The people on the team are very friendly, and I have made a lot of friends. This sport will always mean a lot for me because I have made some great memories that I will never forget.”

When it comes to diving, Mariano said having gymnastic experience can give a diver a leg up, but it’s not a prerequisite.

“It helps to have a gymnastic background as far as the twisting and somersaults but it’s not really a requirement,” he said. “The biggest thing is to work on the dives that are required for that week and go from there.”

Brown’s background in gymnastic helps in another way, being able to handle standing out on the board with all the attention on her while the pool is virtually silent.

Naugatuck’s Brin Battisti performs a dive. –CONTRIBUTED

“Actually, I kind of like that feeling,” Brown said.

“I’m certainly not used to that atmosphere,” Battisti added. “I don’t have a gymnast background, so it is a little hard to get over. That’s why the mental approach to your dive is so important.”

Aside from their coaches, the Greyhounds also can look to Naugatuck High Athletic Director Brain Mariano, who is no stranger to the diving board, for some advice.

Brain Mariano, who is Doug Mariano’s son, won the 2001 Class L state championship in diving and the 2002 national championship. He went on to dive for Indiana University after graduating from Naugatuck High.

“I think the hardest part, at least for me, was spotting,” Brain Mariano said. “When you are somersaulting towards the water you need to be able to spot where you are so you can get your entrance down. Not an easy thing to do.”

As the NVL swim season heads into the homestretch, having seasoned divers will be a luxury for teams when the league comes together to crown a champion.

“We found out a lot about ourselves when we swam against Sacred Heart and Oxford, two teams that finished ahead of us (at NVLs) last year,” Naugatuck head coach Jim McKee said. “We were able to score in every event. That means your depth is where it needs to be.

“Katie is in second in the league and Brin is definitely a top-five diver. The championship is 11 dives and those points are going to be very valuable to stay with the teams ahead of us.”